Twenty-two months ago, Edison High football coach Matt Johnson could be seen celebrating in the middle of Sunnyside Stadium, surrounded 20 deep by players, students and fans while hoisting the Central Section Division I plaque, representing the program’s first top-division title in 39 years.
Two weeks ago painted a dreadfully different picture at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
There, The Fresno Bee’s 2014 Coach of the Year stood in the east end zone, imploring his players to keep the faith following a 27-21 loss to Clovis North and an 0-4 start against one of the most daunting nonleague schedules west of the Rockies.
“I told them flat out, ‘We will turn this around. The question you have to ask yourselves, can you hang in there through this patch and wait to come out the other side?’ ”
I told (my players) flat out, ‘We will turn this around. The question you have to ask yourselves, can you hang in there through this patch and wait to come out the other side?’
Coach Matt Johnson of the 0-4 Edison Tigers
All the while, a parent far closer to the huddle than he should have been not only interrupted the coach’s message, but berated him and, ultimately even challenged him physically, as witnessed by many.
The father’s tone: If the team is going to go down like this, everyone on the 52-player roster should play. Second-stringers. Third-stringers. And what’s left.
To which Johnson responds now: “I hate to throw our fans and parents under the bus, but they’re notoriously vocal. This is what we’re up against right now. No one believes; they want to write the year off. I’d yell too, but …”
Let’s help close the thought. Carrying the mantle of Edison football CEO, historically, hasn’t been an easy gig, and none of the program’s most distinguished coaches has been immune. No one from Tim Mazzoni in the ’40s to Jim Fugman 30 years later to Ray Reyes to native icon Tim McDonald in the first decade of this millennium.
“It’s a cultural deal,” Johnson says.
And he embraces it: “I love my job.”
Edison’s practices begin at 3:45 p.m.
But, on one day this week, Johnson arrived at 4:30 p.m.: “A parent meeting.”
Again, all part of the gig. And he hardly needs any distractions while staring down the barrel of an 0-5 start with Garces next up Friday night as the Tigers close their brutal nonleague card at Sunnyside Stadium.
It’s been a schedule that forced Edison to improvise late in the spring after Bakersfield and Buchanan scratched as opponents for different reasons. And not to suggest the Drillers and Bears – ranked 10th and fourth in the section, respectively – were going to be soft foes. But the consequences had the Tigers play Brophy College Prep, an Arizona titan, as part of the one-day, three-game Under Armour Classic at Ventura College, and then a game at Nevada power Damonte Ranch-Reno. That resulted in 33-0 and 26-10 losses.
And now on to No. 9 Garces (3-1) of the Southwest Yosemite League, a strong contender for the section D-II title.
3 Section top-10 teams Edison will have played through Friday, in addition to ranked teams from Arizona and Nevada
The Rams are so fast – featuring quarterback Conor Bruce, who placed fourth and third in last spring’s section Masters 100- and 200-meter finals, respectively – that Edison seriously fears their speed. And when have you heard that out of the Tigers’ camp before?
“Best offense in the Valley, I guarantee it,” Johnson says of a Garces team coached for a second straight season by former Fresno State star defender A.J. Gass.
Jaylan King is Edison’s top running back, but he’s been trying to inspire his teammates on the other side of the ball this week, knowing clearly their frightening assignment: “I motivate my defense every day. We’ve got to have trust – that’s the best thing for us.”
That, indeed, is the magical word for the Tigers as the schedule rolls into October and County/Metro Athletic Conference play looms around the corner.
Can it be held amid the winless plunge and parental and booster unrest? All with a team desperately trying to establish an identity with only four senior starters?
Middle linebacker Jake Hanson is one of those seniors. And he has a ring from 2014.
We have all the faith in the world. We have time. I know for a fact we’re going to win the CMAC and be a factor in the playoffs. I know that for certain.
Edison senior linebacker Jake Hanson
“We’ve talked a lot about 0-4,” he says, “and, honestly, we all agree it doesn’t feel like 0-4. We have all the faith in the world. We have time. I know for a fact we’re going to win the CMAC and be a factor in the playoffs. I know that for certain.”
Johnson stops just short of making a similar pledge: “This year’s not over. These guys haven’t pronounced everything they’re going to be. The football gods have not been friendly to the Edison Tigers. But I’m counting on a final touché to those doomsday people out there.
“That’s what drives me and what drives the team.”