Jaguars ready for Friday night lights

Rolling within the mind of Johnson High head football coach Steve Hoffman is a clock that’s counting down the days until August practices begin for the 2020 campaign.

But in the interim of waiting 340-plus days to compete at the varsity level, Hoffman understands the time is now for the Jaguars to prepare for those Friday night lights.

By offering his junior varsity team the opportunity to take on varsity level opposition in 2019, Hoffman hopes it can lead to success when it matters most next fall.

“We have to prepare ourselves because less than a year from now, we’re playing a varsity schedule,” Hoffman said. “We have to do everything we can, whether it’s getting in the weight room or playing on a Thursday or Friday night. We have to take advantage of every opportunity.”

Hoffman, who was hired to helm the Johnson High program in late 2018, said starting up the school’s first football team has been a “step-by-step deal.” The Jaguars’ inaugural class of freshman and sophomores, is playing at the freshman and junior varsity levels this season. Starting in fall 2020, Johnson High will play at the varsity level.

While coaches are working to get players to buy in to their style, Hoffman said getting to start a football program from scratch is “a lot of fun.” It’s also a rather new experience for several of the coaches.

“It’s a lot different than what we’re used to,” Hoffman said. “We’re used to getting things ready and playing at a varsity schedule. Starting this program has been fun. The kids have been great and have worked hard.”

With it comes a variety of firsts for the program. Adam Fenton scored the program’s first ever touchdown Aug. 30 on a 95 yard fumble return for a score. Johnson High crushed Hutto 41-0 in the team’s first contest played at its on-campus field.

Offering his players a Friday night like atmosphere is imperative, Hoffman said. In the contest against Hutto, the Johnson High band, dance and cheerleading squads performed in front of a sold-out crowd.

Hoffman said he wanted players to “feel the intensity” of what it’s like on Friday’s next season. That extends to not only the atmosphere but also on the field, too.

Johnson High’s JV team took on a pair of varsity level squads during preseason scrimmages. On Sept. 13, the Jaguars narrowly fell to 2A foe Yorktown in a 50-49 overtime shootout. The Jaguars travel to play Granger’s varsity team Oct. 4.

In each contest, Hoffman said coaches and players realize the need to match the size and physical play of varsity level opponents. Putting in work in the weight room will be a key attribute this offseason, Hoffman said.

“Going in, we have to get stronger,” Hoffman said. “The kids have to see the other kids. They’re two years older and they’re stronger.”

Where the Jaguars will land after the UIL’s biennial realignment and reclassification in February 2020 is also something Hoffman will keep an eye on. Based on current student population figures, as well as a formula used for first year programs, Hoffman envisions the Jaguars starting at the 5A level next season.

Getting the ball rolling toward the reality of Friday night football for Johnson High has been a “refreshing” experience for Hoffman.

“This is my 13th year as a head coach and this is a lot of fun,” Hoffman said. “I miss the Friday nights, but I wouldn’t trade this for the entire world.”

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