Showing good signs

Published 8:15 pm Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saints: Nansemond-Suffolk’s Ryan Serianni, left, and Thomas Westfall bring down a Norfolk Academy player during a Tidewater Conference game last October. The Saints finished last season with a 4-6 record.

Saints off to a promising start under new coach

Lew Johnston has yet to coach his first game, or even official practice, as the new head football coach at Nansemond-Suffolk. He already sees good signs for his new squad.

“The core values at NSA are the same as the core values I’ve always stood for with my coaching philosophy,” Johnston said.

When Johnston accepted the job in December, he said only a unique opportunity that excited him would take him from being a middle school teacher and football coach in Chesapeake and bring him back on the sideline as a high school coach. Johnston, coached at Western Branch, with his time as an assistant and the head coach combined, from 1972-2006.

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None of that’s to say there aren’t, and won’t continue to be, adjustments between Johnston and his new Saint players.

One example came with once-a-week workouts on NSA’s practice field starting during the winter.

“It was January 8 and it was around 40 degrees or so,” Johnston said. “We had about 15 or 16 kids out there for about an hour or hour-and-a-half.”

Leaving the field that evening, Johnston was a little disappointed with the turnout.

“One of my assistants asked me about it, then he said, ‘we only have 18 kids who aren’t playing a winter sport and we got almost all of them out here. This was great.’” Johnston said.

For the next few weeks, some younger players came out as well, increasing the number a little more.

“Then we went into the spring season and we were down to four or five kids a week,” Johnston said.

Such is a surprise coming from a large Group AAA public school to a small private school.

One important chance for the Saint players to make strides with what their new head coach demands comes this week. Johnston’s taking around 30 players to a Wing T team camp at Amherst County High School.

Johnston went 163-65-3 and won five Southeastern District championships with the Delaware Wing T at Western Branch. He’s a longtime expert on the offensive system, having written books, done videos and coached coaches on it.

“It was funny actually,” Johnston said of a parents’ meeting shortly after he took the job. “(Some of the parents) were telling me how either they or their kids were Googling me and had found my books or DVDs and so on.”

At the camp in Amherst though, the Wing T coaching will be from the staff at Carnegie Mellon, a Div. III school in Pittsburgh.

When the outdoor workouts have been called off by rain, Johnston’s been leading chalkboard sessions inside. He’s been giving his players homework assignments, even using the information superhighway himself with Youtube clips of Wing T plays.

“What we’ll do is more than the traditional Wing T. We’re going to spread the field, run some shotgun, give teams different looks and throw the ball some. I think we have kids who can throw it and catch it,” Johnston said.

“We’re going to be young and not very big, but we have two big pluses. We have smarts and speed and we’ll take advantage of those things,” he said.

New coach or not, and no matter how many more adjustments need to be made, the countdown is on to preseason practices starting on Aug. 4, the first scrimmage on Aug. 19 and the season opener at First Flight (N.C.) on Sept. 2.