King’s Academy first-year head coach Michael Johnson certainly has the resume to bring the Knights back to the top of the Peninsula Athletic League’s Lake Division.
Following a five-year career in the Canadian Football League, Johnson has had coaching stints with several NFL and college teams. He has served as an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, and in 2010, was named the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator under then coach Mike Singletary. He also served as interim head coach at UCLA at the end of the 2011 season.
The question when it comes to King’s Academy is: does Johnson have the talent to be successful this season?
He believes he does.
“I’ve been blessed to walk into a situation where, for what I want to do offensively, I think we have decent skill players,” Johnson said. “My job is to get them in places to do things to be effective.”
Johnson say he plans to run a varied offensive attack and is not set into one certain system.
“I just have to find the right offensive plays for the guys I have,” Johnson. “I’m not a system guy. I want to run plays that work.”
The Knights finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Lake Division with a 3-2 record and were 5-5 overall. With a number of key returners on offense, the Knights are hoping to take the next step of winning the division title. Leading the way is senior quarterback Dominic Sabel, who is entering his third year as the starting signal caller.
“We’re going to have lean on him to lead (the offense),” Johnson said.
Sabel passed for nearly 1,800 yards last season, with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 179 yards and five more scores.
Making things a bit easier for Sabel and the skill-position players is an offensive line that features some big boys. Cole Hansen is 6-4, 240 pounds and a first-team, all-Lake Division selection last season. Cole Elpel is 6-2, 300. Johnson is waiting to see what he has in newcomer Mika Smith.
“We have a little size on our line,” Johnson said. “I think our guys up front, they are very capable (of handling the job). (But) we’re putting in complex run schemes and pass protections. Teaching is half the battle.”
Elpel will also anchor the defensive line as the nose tackle.
“He’s a load at nose guard. There are three words we tell him: knock them back,” Johnson said. “He’s a strong guy. He has a lot of explosion in his legs.”
Those three up front should help pave the way for running backs Jamie Wilson and Alex Bae, who were the Knights’ top two rushers a year ago. The two combined for 551 yards and four touchdowns, averaging more than five yards per carry.
The Knights also return their top wide receivers from last season. Derek Ziske was the Lake Division Wide Receiver of the Year. Mike Miclean averaged 22 yards per catch last season while averaging just under three receptions per game.
“Our three main guys on offense have to be Derek Friske, Mark Miclean and the combination of Jamie Wilson and Alex Bae,” Johnson said. “We have to be able to get the ball to those guys in order to make plays for us.”
As has been the case for the Knights the last several years, depth is a concern. As is a slow start to the season. Johnson wasn’t hired until April and as such, the team missed out on about three months of off-season preparation.
“We just haven’t had a lot of time (together). We’re like three months behind the normal football program,” Johnson said. “We had a late start, but I think we had a good summer. The kids are getting better fundamentally.”
The saving grace, according to Johnson, is his team’s ability to quickly learn the way he likes to do things and teach the aspects of the game. Smarts can go a long way to helping a team ramp up the learning curve.
“The one thing I’m blessed to have here is a group of smart kids … who are able to grasp concepts and retain more,” Johnson said. “You speed up that learning curve when you have intelligent people.”
Johnson has also been impressed with the team’s attitude so far.
“I think they’re excited. I think they’re eager to play somebody and see how we do against other people,” Johnson said. “I believe accomplishment builds confidence and that builds belief. That’s my initial goal at the beginning of the season.”