Coaches, players have new view of Patterson-Poly game

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

September 22, 2006|By MILTON KENT

New Patterson football coach Corey Johnson knows that his team can take one of three psychological approaches in gearing up for today's showdown with Poly. The Clippers could view the game as just another contest on the schedule, circle the date on the calendar or just hope to get through the game.

Options 1 and 3, Johnson says, are out. His players have been looking forward to facing their former coach, Roger Wrenn, since it was announced last spring that he would be taking over the Engineers' program.

"For the kids, though, it's a little bit more than that because some of them have been here three years," Johnson said. "They were attached to Roger for three years and they're seniors now, and he went to a rival school that they had actually beaten their three years here. For them, it's a little more personal."

And that's understandable. Today's game is likely to be emotional for the Patterson players and Wrenn, who taught at the school and won 237 games in 37 years as football coach to become the area's leader in wins.

Left unexplored, however, is whatever individual feelings Johnson himself might bring to the matchup. For all the talk of how wrenching the Patterson-Poly game will be for Wrenn and his former charges, Johnson has an emotional stake as well.

Johnson, 33, was defensive coordinator at Poly last season, helping mold All-City defensive back LaQuan Williams, who intercepted 20 passes in two seasons before accepting a scholarship offer to Maryland.

Johnson was named interim head coach when Anthony Knox resigned after the season. He remained in the position for four months, all the while thinking that the interim title would be taken away for this season.

"This thing was supposed to be a mere formality," Johnson said. "I had the backing of the principal and the athletic director, so everything seemed like it was going to be smooth sailing."

Imagine, then, how Johnson felt in March, when he was called into Poly principal Barney Wilson's office and told that he had finished second to Wrenn, who was approached by meddlesome members of the school's alumni.

"It was a shock," Johnson said. "I was held in limbo for four or five months, getting kids into college and setting things up for camps, then I had the rug pulled out from underneath me a little bit.

"I was a faculty member at Poly. They brought me into the building for me to assume that job. Being young, my thing was it was an opportunity for me to lead the program for 25 or 30 years, as Roger had done down here. That kind of put me back a little bit when they went in that direction."

In the period between when Knox resigned and Wrenn was named, the head coaching job at Johnson's alma mater, Loch Raven, came open and was filled, but Johnson didn't apply, thinking he would be set at Poly.

Johnson said he was asked to remain at Poly as Wrenn's defensive coordinator, theoretically to take over in three years, but he declined the offer. He somehow stayed positive and a bit philosophical about Poly's decision.

"Credentials-wise, nobody in the city was going to match up with Roger's resume, so I can't say that they made a bad decision or a terrible decision," Johnson said. "It's not a situation where I am bitter. We've moved on. I'm in charge of a football program, and I can't look back. I'm happy where I am."

Meanwhile, Wrenn, who finished out last year as Patterson's athletic director, put the wheels in motion to help Johnson by calling him to ask whether he'd be interested in replacing him at the East Baltimore school.

"That was really big of him [Wrenn]," Johnson said. "That's why I ended up down here. He made a phone call personally for me to come and interview."

Of course, Wrenn, who guided the Clippers to a 9-2 mark and the Class 4A North playoffs last year, might not have left the school had it not been for talk that Patterson was going to be closed in a restructuring of the city school system.

So far, that talk has been just that, talk, and Johnson says Patterson should be fine.

`The school is really unique," Johnson said. "When I got down here, just the amount of international students that we have is unlike any other school that we have in Baltimore City. So, you would be doing a tremendous disservice to this area if you closed this school down. It really should be a model school for what's going to be happening in Baltimore City, with more Hispanic and Latino students coming into the area."

The Clippers (1-1) will be a bit nicked up for today's game, with starting quarterback Eric Baylor (broken collarbone) and running back Anton Wade (hyperextended knee) out, forcing Johnson to turn to freshman Calvin Cottingham behind center.

Cottingham threw two interceptions in the rain in last week's 6-0 loss at Mervo, but Johnson is counting on his defense to keep things close and give the Clippers a chance to win.

"The guys have really picked up what I like to do defensively really well," Johnson said. "I've got some guys who are really aggressive. Defense is my staple, so I try to make sure that defensively, we're pretty good. We're going to be flying around the ball. We're athletic and as long as we can stay in games defensively, that will definitely help us, especially having a freshman quarterback."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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