Coach Ben Johnson is one of the lifers. Raised in Gunnison during an era when the entire town turned out for high school football, the head coach of the Delta Panthers brings an unbridled passion for the game to his team and community.
"The start of a new season is always exciting," says Ben. "Kids are excited and I just love football at the beginning of the year. It's a fun time to get back with the kids and play sports. Friday night lights is a special time. I've always talked with principals about how it helps kick-start the school year. The whole atmosphere is fun. The community comes out to watch and it's just an exciting time."
Adding to the excitement is the very real possibility for a successful season. After all, Coach Johnson knows how to win. He's entering his 20th season of teaching and coaching and sports an overall record of 123-64. He won a state title in Nevada as head coach of the Indian Springs Thunderbirds (near Las Vegas) in 1997 and another as the defensive coordinator for Olathe's 2008 title team. He coached two future NFL players as high schoolers: Richard Siegler, who played linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Brandyn Dombrowski, who is currently an offensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers. To top it off, just last season Ben was recognized as the Denver Broncos "Coach of the Week" following the Panthers' thrilling victory over league-rival Palisade.
Football gamedays have long factored into the Johnson equation. "Growing up in a college town made gameday a special experience," says Ben. "My dad was a spotter for the football team, so we sat in the press box and he'd call out who made the tackle or reception, so I was going to the college games every Saturday.
"At that time in Gunnison," continues Johnson, "all the kids in town would get out of school for half a day on gamedays. Everyone from the elementary school clear up to the high school would walk up to the college bowl and watch the high school team play on Friday nights. That's changed now, but growing up and watching games as a community like that was very special."
With a natural love for sports kindling the fire and experiences like those stoking it, it was only a matter of time before Ben charted his life's course. "I knew that I was a football junkie and was going to get into teaching and coaching someday," says Ben. "I think I figured that out around my senior year of high school. My dad was a professor at Western State (in Gunnison), and I enjoyed that family mentality. I knew that I wanted to go into teaching so I could spend more time with my family in the summers."
Indeed, football is a family affair for the Johnsons. Wife Rosie is the athletic trainer for Delta High School in addition to teaching and coaching there herself. Son Trey is a freshman at DHS, running routes with precision for the football team, and their youngest son, Colton, is the ball boy.
"I just like going out there, dying my hair green, putting some eye black on, and cheering for the team," says Colton.
Even after two decades of pacing the sidelines, Ben Johnson remains committed to the kids and the game. "My favorite part of coaching is being around the kids," says Ben. "It's fun to watch them develop and really become athletes. Also, having them in the weight room, you get to watch them get stronger and develop self-confidence.
"The thing about football is that it teaches toughness. We all go through tons of adversity in our lives and have to deal with it. You get knocked down, but you get back up again. Football requires the courage to stand in there, regardless of your size, and make a play for the betterment of the team. It's eleven guys on a field trying to achieve a common goal — making sure everyone's on the same page. Sometimes it's not very pretty, but when everyone's working together, it can be a beautiful thing to watch."blog comments powered by Disqus