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Johnson: Outlook bright for 2022 Bulldawgs

Cove Leader-Press 

With a new head football coach for the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs’ program, thoughts are already turning to spring football. 
Last week, Joe Lombardi, voice of the Bulldawgs and Bulldawg Radio, and the writer of the weekly column Cup O’ Joe for the Leader-Press, sat down with Tony Johnson for a visit last Friday. 
Johnson is already busy getting to know his team and his new community. In fact, the week before, the district held a meet-and-greet for Johnson. 
Johnson is in his 29th year of coaching and is originally from Kansas City and calls himself a “proud Chiefs and Royals fan.” 
He and his wife, Mary, came from WT White in Dallas ISD, where he was the athletic coordinator and head football.
Of note, Johnson has also coached at the collegiate level and was definitely aware of Copperas Cove. 
“As a college coach, I used to come down here and recruit so had known about Copperas Cove for a while and so now I’m finally glad to be a part of it,” he said. 
Johnson also said that Copperas Cove has had a “traditionally rich” athletic program.
“Obviously with Coach Lowery and what she’s done on the girls’ side, and then in the past, football was very successful here. What we’re trying to do is try to build that back up. So of course, you can’t talk about high school football in Texas without mentioning Copperas Cove at some point in time. And so that’s our task and that’s what we’re excited about trying to do,” Johnson said. 
Lombardi asked Johnson about the term “culture”, used by coaches especially in a new hiring situation, and about how he was able to turn around WT White in Dallas.
“The culture there was a losing culture. They were 0-20 in terms of football, out of 16 sports only two advanced. When I left there, we had 13 sports out of 16 in the playoffs, regionals, districts and things of that nature, and winning district championships, etc.,” Johnson said. “So we’ve got the word culture, as you said it’s a buzzword, but it’s real. When Coach Lowery and I talk about trying to build a culture here and especially in football for me, it starts with our young people. We’ve got to get in and grind into those freshmen because eighth graders are coming up, and that’s where it starts. You don’t neglect the older kids either because they need to be logged on and be shown the proper way to do things, the proper way to act and behave. 
“And I think that’s our job, isn’t it, to grow young people and to make them respectable citizens and to compete, not only on their fields in the courts, but to compete in life and in the job force. And so that’s what we do, and that’s what we try to build. 
Coach Johnson has also been team building in terms of his coaching staff. 
“At this point, we hired two coordinators for sure. We’ve found a few more than just those two, but my two coordinators are gentlemen that have been with me for a long time. Mike Evans is our defensive coordinator, and Joel Wilhelm is a young offensive coordinator. And then we’ve surrounded those guys with some other gentlemen that have already been offered contracts for next year. Men like Paul Westbrook, he’s been with me for nine years. He will work with our offensive line. We hired a young coach named Jared Shaw, who’s a phenomenal coach from the Central Texas area, he’s been in Killeen and in Lockhart, as our quarterbacks coach. And then we’ve hired a linebacker coach named Jeff Dennis,” Johnson said. “When I say hired, these folks won’t start until spring football. They’ll come down and work but they won’t officially start at Cove for a while. But we’re excited about the new faces. I’m currently interviewing a few other people that are interested.
“One of the things that was asked of me when I was interviewed, was would you be able to attract coaches to come down here and be a part of this? And I think you see very, very quickly that yes, that we’ve been able to do that. And there have been some people that have reached out that, we will continue to bring through. It’s still early in the coaching cycle.”
Johnson said the coaches here now are also working hard and continuing to work hard for the kids. 
“That’s the profession we’re in. They love kids and they love working with our kids. They’ve been great. I have no issues or qualms with them,” Johnson said. “Anytime there’s transition, there’s going to be some new faces and some old faces that will go other places and do other things, and we wish them well if that’s the case. But we’re certainly excited about where we’re going with our coaches.”
Johnson said his third week on the job has been a “blessing.” He’s also given the players an acronym to go by. 
“We’ve talked about our DAWGS acronym –discipline, action, winning, grit, sacrifice -- and those are core values that I believe in. We talk about those things every day with our kids to the point where eventually – and it’s already happening here faster than any place I’ve ever been – when you ask one of our student athletes in the high school, what does DAWGS stand for? They’re going to be able to tell you that acronym and that’s what we want. And when we did that in Dallas, we were the Horns, we had those key descriptive words that built our culture. Those kids can repeat that back and then they’ll be able to tell you what those words align in their daily life. And that’s what we want to do here. 
“This is a bigger thing than wins and losses. Obviously you want to win. They don’t put a scoreboard on the football field if they didn’t expect you to win. But it is my job, and my responsibility is to grow these people, spiritually, mentally and physically as well.”
Right now, Johnson likes what he sees, with 20 entering as seniors. 
“So we don’t have a large senior class and we’re certainly open for business, if you know what I mean. We’re taking kids that haven’t played in a couple of years and kids that want to maybe get a second chance. We’re certainly willing to take them back. 
“But at this point, I have 20 seniors so we’re going to be young, but with that youth comes a lot of great talent. I’m very impressed with what I see out of our young receivers, very impressed what I see out of our running backs. 
“We’re young, but that youth is going to have to step up right away and play. We’re excited about that. There are three or four freshmen and that are going step out and play key roles next year. While we understand the future looks bright, we also know we will be playing quite a few young kids on the varsity team next year.
Johnson is looking forward to the momentum that spring football will bring. 
“Kids need to put a helmet on, kids need to put shoulder pads on. Kids need to be excited about football leading into the summer. If you don’t, that’s where I think people are losing the mark. They’re afraid to do spring football because kids won’t want to play football. I’m on the exact opposite side of it. I think it entices kids to come out, give it a try and in to get enticed about coming out for football.”
The Bulldawgs will take to the field for their first spring game on Tuesday, April 26. 
“You’re going to call it a game and the kids are going to call it a game I’m going to tell you it’s a glorified practice. So yeah, yes, we’ll have a spring game,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

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