Liberty's Johnson hasn't lost his winning touch Successful NTC at previous stops, coach has Lions roaring, too

High School Football Preview

September 05, 1996|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Liberty coach Ken Johnson is quick to give others credit.

At Randallstown High, where he spent six years as coach, he said it was just a matter of keeping a good thing going. During his three years as coach at Chesapeake High in Baltimore County, there was a good staff and plenty of talent to work with.

Liberty was a different story.

In 1993, Johnson took over a program that never experienced success and, in three years, has turned it into one of the strongest teams in the metro area. After inheriting a 1-9 team, he went 1-9 his first season, improved to 4-6 in 1994 before turning the corner with an 8-2 finish last season.

Johnson can talk all he wants about his quality assistants and the good athletes that are now pouring into the program, but it all started with Johnson and his system.

A few factors helped Johnson get things turned around. The wing-T offense he's a master of teaching is ideal at the high school level. The patience shown in Johnson's first season proved to pay big dividends in the long run. And most important, he got the players to believe in what they're doing.

"The smartest thing we did was starting over," Johnson said. "The first year, we avoided bringing some of the younger kids up and kept them together as a group. To be successful, you have to experience success. By keeping them down, they gained success at the lower level and we parlayed that when they got to the varsity level."

Johnson first learned the wing-T from former Randallstown coach Jim Higgins, who had it in place when Johnson took over at Randallstown.

"It's very versatile and not dependent on any one-type player like the option with the running quarterback and the I-formation with the tailback who carries the ball 20 times," Johnson said. "It's almost like a chameleon in that it's subtly different, which enables you to get your strengths out of the different players you may have coming in."

The success has brought lofty expectations and a newfound winning tradition at Liberty, which comes into the season ranked No. 7 in the metro area. The freshmen turnout was the biggest ever with 35 out this year. Also for the first time ever, the junior varsity numbers are close to 30.

This season, it's Westminster first-year coach Frank Mantinaos' turn to try and turn around a program that has struggled in recent years.

"We've set goals -- long term and short term. We have four-year goals, yearly goals, weekly goals and daily goals," Mantinaos said.

"Everything starts with the daily goals. Without reaching the daily goals, you can't get to the others. It has to be 100 percent every play, every day. We're working hard on establishing that and once we do, the rest will take care of itself."

Mantinaos, a western Pennsylvania native, enjoyed plenty of success while playing at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa. The college won back-to-back NAIA Division II national championships in his junior and senior years and won 27 straight games. Mantinaos, a center and 1990 grad, was a two-time Academic All-American.

Liberty should make a serious run at its first Central Maryland Conference title this season with the usual Frederick County teams right there, also.

Defending CMC champ Thomas Johnson, Class 3A state quarterfinalists in 1995, has standout quarterback Randall Jones back, but a lot of his offensive help graduated. Sophomore running back/linebacker Leroy Ambush is a player to watch for the Patriots.

Class 2A champ Linganore, which finished last season 12-1 and 5-1 in the CMC, also lost a lot of talent to graduation. Eight starters return in all led by offensive tackle Ryan Caldwell, tight end/linebacker Nate Furr and quarterback Ryan Green.

A surprise team in the CMC could be the Frederick Cadets, who have a new coach in Vince Ahearn. Ahearn enjoyed success as coach at Suitland High in Prince George's County before taking the Frederick position.

The Cadets return running back Alton McCallum, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and scored 11 touchdowns, and quarterback Mike Frownfelter, who threw for 565 yards and seven touchdowns. Look for the Cadets to run the option this season.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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