On Thursday night, 40-year-old Johnny Johnson was officially hired as the coach at North Chicago High School, replacing Glen Kozlowski, who had a five-year run with the Red/White.
A 1991 North Chicago grad, he’s the founder and CEO of Zion-based Covenant Sports Training, an athletic training and mentoring program tailored toward middle school and high school players, with a focus on skills and agility training. He has worked with eight kids at the quarterback and receiver positions, including Waukegan High quarterback Melvin Bobo IV.
Johnson has also worked as a Business Banking Relationship Manager with JP Morgan Chase out of six branches in Lake County.
He was the freshman football coach at North Chicago for two years under Mike Grenda in the early 2000s, and also worked as the varsity quarterbacks coach.
As a junior quarterback in 1989, Johnson led North Chicago to the IHSA playoffs for the first time. The Warhawks qualified for the playoffs again in 1990.
Johnson moved on to the University of Illinois where he started 31 games from 1993-95, throwing for 5,293 yards and 35 touchdowns versus 23 interceptions.
Johnson was benched his senior year at Illinois in favor of Scott Weaver. Although he regained his starting job before the season was up, the damage had been done: Johnson went undrafted in 1996. He signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions and threw for six touchdowns during the 1996 preseason. He was eventually cut in 1997, and was also cut twice by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League before finding his way to arena football.
Johnson bounced around the arena football circuit for a few years, making stops in Peoria, Greensboro (North Carolina), Greenville (South Carolina), and Pensacola (Florida), among others.
In the 1999 championship game of the short-lived Indoor Football League, Johnson dueled Green Bay Bombers quarterback Nick Browder for the IFL’s Gold Cup. Johnson won their two regular-season meetings, but Browder and the Bombers won the championship game 63-60.
The two will square off again in Week 1 of the 2014 season when Waukegan visits North Chicago, but this time it will be as opposing head coaches.
Friday afternoon, Johnson, a 1991 graduate of North Chicago High and a former star QB for both the Warhawks and the University of Illinois, talked about his hopes and dreams for future North Chicago football players.
“I’m not just about throwing the ball everywhere. I have a lot of ideas, but we’ll see what we have, and what the kids can pick up. The next couple of months will involve a lot of work, a lot of investigating and watching film to see what we have coming back. Will you see five wide? Yes. You’ll also see two tight ends and two running backs. This is a school that has also had good running backs that can carry the ball 25 times a game. We had Michael Turner, who can carry a load.”
* “We’re not a big team, and we’ll never be a big team. We don’t have 60-something kids to choose from. A lot of kids have to go both ways. We want to put our kids in the best position we can to succeed.”
* “My dream is for North Chicago to be blacked out on Friday nights. Nothing is open because North Chicago is playing football. I think that can happen here. I think if we do things the way I know we can do them, this town will get behind this team.”
* “We’ve had people go on and do great things, and we’ve had people go on and not do great things. I want our players to leave here knowing how to handle a college program, because that’s what we want for them. There’s going to be a much higher standard. We want our players to be young men first, and athletes second. That’s why we call them student-athletes.”
* “There was a time when my football career came to an end and I didn’t know what I was going to do. These kids play for the opportunity to go to the next level, but what happens after that? I had a college degree. I got dressed up and went to interviews. They told me they were very impressed, but I didn’t have the experience. That’s a depressing state, but it’s important for our kids to learn how to handle it.”