The Warriors are in the midst of perhaps their best era in the sport. They went 21-19 during the four-year run of coach Seth Whiting, who left for Alliance High School. They were 8-42 in the five years before him.
“When I was in middle school, nobody looked forward to high school football,” Leist said. “Northwestern was at the bottom and always has been.
“We’ve changed that. It started with Coach Whiting. He had the first winning record for a senior group, and we plan to continue the success.”
The Warriors will have to overcome some inexperience to maintain that level. They have three other returning seniors among their 41 players in grades 9-12: running back/linebacker Tanner White, fullback/defensive end Wade Hastings and cornerback/receiver Xavier Voorhees.
Another senior, running back/defensive back Travis Risner, is playing varsity for the first time.
The Warriors also will need to find a replacement for graduated quarterback Trevor Gebby, who passed for 1,118 yards and 10 TDs last season. Candidates for the job are sophomores Camron Smyczek and Eli Berner.
But Johnson is jazzed up about coaching so much youth, saying, “They want to listen, they want to win, they want to get better.”
He’s also upbeat about his squad.
“We feel great. We’re going to line up across from everybody and expect to win the game,” he said. “That’s the way we want to teach these guys and build a winning culture.
“We’re going to be confident and expect to win. We’ll be young, but our goal is to win the CBC Mad River division. If we weren’t shooting for that, something’s wrong.”
Johnson, who turned 26 today, was an offensive-line starter for Ohio University. He spent two years on the staff at Tippecanoe, which has made the playoffs 10 straight seasons.
The Red Devils have relied on a no-huddle system with plenty of misdirection, some of which Johnson plans to install at Northwestern.
“We’ll put guys in motion. We’ll have guys running all over the place,” he said. “But we’re still going to be a power football team. We’re going to run the ball right at you.”