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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Watch now: Former University High football coach John Johnson takes over as Pontiac coach

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PONTIAC — About the time Pontiac High School athletic director Gary Brunner knew he needed a varsity football coach, John Johnson realized he still wanted a team to coach.

The result was both men getting what they wanted when Johnson was named Pontiac head coach.

“We were kind of stressed to see who we were going to get,” Brunner said of Alan Kuchefski stepping down from the position to take an assistant coaching job at Illinois Wesleyan. “We ran the gamut. Maybe we would have to do an interim coach type of deal. When John put his name in, we got a chance for a full timer. I think we got lucky.”

Johnson resigned after four seasons as coach at University High and had planned to devote his time to being head coach and general manager for the Bloomington Edge indoor team.

When Edge ownership informed Johnson the team would not return for the coming season, he began to grow restless.

“I didn’t think I would miss it,” said Johnson, whose last Pioneers’ team went 2-4. “But I sat around for two weeks and said ‘man, I can’t do this.' I’m still breathing and kicking football.”

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Johnson met with Brunner as well as Pontiac superintendent Jon Kilgore and principal Eric Bohm.

“It was an excellent meeting. We just hit it off,” the 62-year-old Johnson said. “They are real supportive people, very nice.”

“Just his experience and his enthusiasm for the game was something we thought was a good thing in the situation we’re in,” said Brunner. “We talked to a lot of people who said we think he would be a great fit for you."

The Indians were 0-5 last season. A numbers problem resulted in having just 20 players available for a late season game against Prairie Central. Pontiac had 24 players in its entire program this past spring and did not field a junior varsity or freshman team.

“There were a couple classes that pointed to we would be in that direction,” Brunner said. “The whole combination of COVID and kids getting jobs played a part in it. If you would have asked any of us in mid January or February if we were going to play football, we would have told you no. A lot of kids got jobs after basketball season or concentrated on getting ready for the spring seasons (in other sports).

"I don’t think anybody is going to go from 24 to 90 in a week and a half. But the process has to get started, and we think John is the guy to help us get that process going.”

Johnson believes Pontiac can compete in the Illini Prairie Conference.

“I think COVID had something to do with that last year,” he said. “It’s going to be a little easier than the Central State Eight, but not a whole lot. It’s a little more equitable as far as the numbers of kids at each school. It was always tough at U High because you played a lot of bigger schools.”

A familiar face is helping Johnson drum up interest in the Pontiac football program. Former Indians coach Mick Peterson has been appointed “Ambassador of Football.”

Peterson was Pontiac head coach from 1989-2001 and 2003-06. He posted a 136-47 record and guided the Indians to the Class 3A state championship in 1993.

“Mick is going to help us with the relationships with the JFL programs and grade schools,” said Brunner. “He’s in a consultant role for us. It’s strictly voluntary. He’s not on the coaching staff.”

Johnson welcomes Peterson’s assistance as he becomes acquainted with the Pontiac community.

“I love Coach Peterson already. He’s a good dude. He knows what he’s doing,” Johnson said. “The Pontiac people have been so supportive already.”

Johnson is holding his first camp with his new team this week.

“The first day of camp I think 42 kids showed up,” he said. “It’s a better start.”

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