St. John Paul II Football Preview: Karl Johnson
Kevin Wald didn’t bother plugging in any video after being hired as John Paul II’s coach last January.
“I’m really just focused on looking out the front end of the car and not the rear-view mirror,” he said.
Duly noted. It probably wouldn’t help, either, that he’d be watching eight-man football.
Those days are gone at the fledgling school, which has sprouted big enough in three years to transition to the standard 11-man game after just one season in the smaller version. The Golden Warriors will play at SCISA’s Class 1A level this year.
Just how fast it all begins to take shape is the central question.
“It’s like putting a puzzle together,” Wald said. “We’re still trying to put the right pieces in the right place.”
Wald brings a solid track record. He was 26-17 in four seasons at Hilton Head Prep, the past two resulting in eight wins and a postseason trip. Last year included a playoff victory before the Dolphins fell in the second round.
Now he’s tasked with essentially building a new program. Just nine players on JP2’s 22-man roster were around last season, and they all played a different game.
Yes, it’s still running, blocking and tackling. But there are fewer people to block in the eight-man game, and far more open space to run in. When offenses are humming properly, it can be like watching “Madden NFL” in the hands of a couple of skilled gamers.
“I think it’s good to start with a clean slate,” said Wald, who used spring workouts to evaluate. “When you have a new staff, come in and see it with your own eyes.”
It couldn’t have taken long to know that Karl Johnson was going to wind up as a key cog. He’s the one who set eyes popping a year ago when he rushed for 448 yards from the quarterback spot in the Golden Warriors’ lone victory over St. John’s Christian.
The senior shifts to receiver this year, continuing to look for big-play possibilities.
“For the future of the program, I think it’s the right fit for the team,” Wald said. “Out in space, he can make you miss.”
The new quarterback is Nyleem Wright, a dual-threat prototype who transferred in from Ridgeland-Hardeeville at mid-autumn. Another key newcomer is Blake Parsons, a 275-pound senior who figures to anchor both sides of the line.
“I think there’s success on the horizon,” Wald said. “How soon, I don’t know. It depends on how hard they continue to work.”
John Paul II Golden Warriors
REGION: SCISA Class 1A, Region 2
COACH: Kevin Wald (first year; 26-17 in four years at Hilton Head Prep)
2015 RECORD: 1-9 (SCISA 8-man)
KEY RETURNERS: WR/S Karl Johnson, OL/LB Mark Tigges, OL/DL Colin Byrne
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: A small, young squad stays healthy and starts to find its chemistry as the season goes along. An early win against Hilton Head Christian or Hilton Head Prep could light a spark, and other winnable opportunities appear late.
- Aug. 19: at Hilton Head Christian, 7 p.m.
- Aug. 26: vs. St. Andrew's, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 2: vs. Palmetto Christian, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 9: at Hilton Head Prep, 5 p.m.
- Sept. 16: at Dorchester Academy, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 23: vs. Thomas Heyward, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 30: at Carolina Academy, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 6: vs. Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 14: Open
- Oct. 21: at Colleton Prep, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 28: vs. Calhoun Academy, 7:30 p.m.