Talent is everywhere. Some place deeper then others but there is talent in every school and in every community. The fact remains some coaches do more with the talent they have then others.
Having talented players and teaching them to be great athletes is no easy task. Instilling in them the importance of maintaining passing grades is even harder. So when Don Johnson was hired at Portland’s Madison High School last year he took an assessment of both the talent and the grade related issues.
Madison had all but cancelled football after years of loosing seasons. Located along NE 82nd Avenue just blocks off I-84 the Senators hail from an impressive brick school built to be one of the biggest schools in the Pacific NW in 1957. It is a complete melting pot of every nationality one can imagine and lacks any luxuries. All the basics are provided for but this is no rich school- a place where grit, grind, and guts are written on the faces on the kids in the halls.
Johnson played ball at Azusa Pacific University. His Father is the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. Coach Don is massive in size at 6’5″ and casts a full shadow on most who approach his bald and hulking frame. He is loud. Brash. Outspoken. Opinionated. And energetic.
If viewed through a traditional football coaches lens one might consider him a promoter because his rolodex to College Coaches is the stuff of legends and he logs more minutes on his phone chatting about “his guys” then there are bikes in Portland. But those of us who know him and see the results he achieves see the man who delivers a strong message and a great product on and off the field. Of African American heritage, Don takes no prisoners and allows few excuses when it comes to grades and the privilege of playing football. He is in fact a strong father figure that is needed today more then it ever has been and he doles out praise and love more then he does anything else. This constant vigil he holds over these kids has the team averaging a 3.2% GPA which may be his biggest success of all.
Since his arrival his kids have been treated to the best equipment, a new field and even a Jumbo – Tron, and some of the very best position coaching anyone will ever get – all because he is incredibly resourceful and driven. With Don at the helm the hunt for players began early last season and between transfers and kids who were in the building the Senators put together a talented team. The desire to win was real and the Senators went 7-2 and made a playoff appearance.
By the time National Letter of Intent Day (Signing Day) came on Feb 1st the Madison squad was holding one of the biggest (if not the biggest) signing day event we have ever been to in Portland. In total 10 athletes signed letters of intent on that day and the school gym was buzzing with pride and beaming with parents and administrators who got their first taste of something awesome.
Daniel Green (6’3.5″-235 Lbs) chose Kansas State over Ole Miss, USC, and a host of others as he signed. Wyryor Noil (6’2″-185 lbs) signed with Idaho, and Isaia Mullen (6’3″-190 lbs) signed with Hawaii. Others signed with schools around the US and in Oregon too. This was a truly big day and we were thankful to have been a part of it.
Johnson is one of the Coaches who understands the recruiting process and he actively participates in off-season camps. He keeps it real by calling BS on the many many groups running false promises at kids and families and for the most part looks after his guys directly. Having said that Coach Don will call up college coaches and athletes from all schools on a whim if he sees someone going under the radar. He loves to connect talent with opportunity and in that sense he is completing a mission and obligation very much like what we do here at NWPR.
It is my humble opinion that Coaches like Don Johnson represent the best of the new era of High School football- a time and space where Old School is melding with the privatization of the sport. He is the perfect mix of Mentor, Positional Coach, Promoter, and father figure. His brand of leadership is contagious and it clearly has spread through the halls at Madison. If I had an athlete in the PIL League I would be looking at having Don Johnson involved in their lives one way or the other. God knows the talent has been in Portland forever but like many Urban leagues the number of recruits making it out to college has been lack-luster.
Watching those 10 amazing kids sign those letters was proof enough that Don Johnson has changed things for the better at Madison High School and in the PIL. No doubt more and more coaches form around the US will be dropping in to see who else is coming up out of the Rose City and Johnson will be a first point of contact!
Coach Don Johnson Talks about the amazing Madison Recruiting Class of 2017
Daniel Green Talks about K State and Madison Football
Isaia Mullen talks about Hawaii and Madison Football
Anthony Longi Talks To Dirk Knudsen About Madison Football and Finding his future
Wyryor Noil Talks Idaho Football and Madison Football