From COVID-19 restrictions to injuries, Verrado High School’s football team endured a rough season last year.
The players ended on a 3-5 note, and their head coach resigned in June.
After a brief interim coach, Buckeye native Dustin Johnson took over on short notice. The team has witnessed early struggles, but it is adapting and preparing itself for the start of the season on Friday, Sept. 3.
“We immediately went to camp and got a lot done, but even still we are constantly needing to add new aspects of what we do,’’ Johnson said. “We have come leaps and bounds, and all the coaches on my staff have done an incredible job of preparing for the future games.”
Johnson maintained the Verrado staff while bringing along his own coaches with extensive football backgrounds, such as John Castellanos and Burt Burns, his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively.
Johnson was immediately intrigued by the idea of coaching a hometown team because of the “amazing community of players and parents.” Johnson said he is very excited to see the growth of the program on and off the field.
On first impression, he could see the team wanted to be winners and know what they need to do to accomplish that.
“They understood that it took hard work and dedication,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the Verrado Vipers’ losing record does not reflect their talent. Many names came to mind for Johnson, but three emerged — wide receiver and defensive back Colin Tibbs, quarterback Erick Santiago and linebacker Nathan Bilski. Johnson praised these talented players on their abilities and their work ethics.
Santiago is looking forward to this season. He spent the offseason working with Castellanos on reading defenses, which is integral for a quarterback to perform at a high level.
“I was struggling with trying to read defenses at first, but working with Coach C has helped a lot,” Santiago said.
After a season that lacked fans, Santiago is excited about the high-energy atmosphere this year.
He is also excited because of the atmosphere that every high school football player missed last season.
“All of the fans will be back. It was rough not having a normal season last year, so it’ll be nice to have a normal season again,” Santiago said.
Santiago said the team and the new coaches are gelling nicely. The players are doing all they can to prepare, no matter the circumstances.
With the season starting this Friday against Notre Dame Prep at home, Johnson doesn’t plan to rush into things.
“We take things one rep at a time,” Johnson said. “We don’t look ahead from anything other than what is right in front of our face, whether that’s our next opponent, our next practice or our next play.”