New coach brings optimism to Evergreen football

Johnson coached previously at Milwaukie High

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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Don Johnson Jr. said he could not pass up this chance to coach at one of the top high school football programs in the Northwest.

Even if it has been a few years since Evergreen has been a top program.

"You look at high school football in the Northwest, you think Jesuit, Central Catholic, Evergreen, Skyline, Bellevue. Those programs have been in the national polls," Johnson said.

Johnson remembers that 2004 Evergreen team that went 14-0 and won the Class 4A state championship, Vancouver's lone state football title.

He wants to see Evergreen rise again.

"It's a powerhouse waiting to be lit up again," Johnson said. "It's a great opportunity. I could see myself building a power, a contender again."

Johnson is leaving Milwaukie, Ore., after one successful season to bring his style to the Plainsmen. Keenan Burris, Evergreen's athletic director, confirmed the hiring on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Johnson resigned from Milwaukie.

The Mustangs went 7-3 under Johnson, the first winning season at Milwaukie since 1991, according to The Oregonian. The Mustangs were 1-9 in 2011.

That means Johnson has experience turning around a program in a hurry.

Evergreen went 3-6 this past fall, one year after an 0-9 campaign. The program's last winning season was in 2008.

"He brought a little different energy, excitement," Burris said of the interview process.

Johnson also has been an assistant coach at Riverside (Calif.) City College. He is the son of an NFL assistant coach.

Johnson will bring with him a philosophy of school first, football second. The Oregonian profiled the Mustangs this year for Johnson's study hall program. He said the team's grade-point average improved by more than a grade.

Johnson also said he was intrigued by the potential talent pool. He said Milwaukie has a student body of more than 1,110, while Evergreen has more than 2,000 students.

"There's gotta be some talent around there," he said.

Johnson works as a campus security guard at Milwaukie. While he has not been hired at Evergreen for a similar role, he said he hopes that will happen soon. Regardless, he will find a way to be around Evergreen.

"I'll do whatever I can to be on campus," he said. "If I have to wash tables at lunch …"

Long term, he expects Evergreen to return to its glory days. Short term, opponents should will not be able to overlook the Plainsmen.

"I expect when people see us on the schedule, they don't just check us off as a win," Johnson said. "They'll need to wait until Friday night to decide that."