Johns era begins on practice field

Friday, July 15, 2016
Forrest head coach Brent Johns works with his tight ends and defensive ends on blocking drills. Photos by Anthony S. Puca

The Brent Johns head coaching era at Forrest began on January 26 when Matt Kriesky's left for Centennial High at Franklin, ending a successful two-year run with the Rockets, who posted a (17-6, 12-1 District) record under Kriesky, including the program's first region title in 29 years.

Johns, a 1990 Forrest graduate begins his fourth season at his alma mater, serving as offensive coordinator for one year under Brian Coleman and in the same capacity under Kriesky.

The first team defense gets some work in versus the scout team offense.

Busy times

"It's been the busiest five months of my life, no question about it," Johns said. "I've done more work and been busier this five months than at any point in my working career."

Regular season practice kicked off this week in the state, beginning with phase one with helmets and no pads.

Offensive lineman Josh "Tank" Hill guts out a big effort during sprints at the Forrest practice Wednesday morning.

For the Rockets, it's an early wakeup call with practice beginning at 6:30 a.m.

"It's been a huge positive about how up they are in the morning time at 6:30," Johns said. "We have been doing this for four years now, so they don't know any other way."

Hitting nears

Phase two with helmets and shoulder pads begins Monday and the real deal commences on July 25 when all squads go to full pad workouts.

Mac Ridley, through some hard work looks like he has gained the starting center job.

"That will be a whole different story, because we have to find about these guys up front, who will replace the guys from upfront last year that were so special," Johns said.

Forrest will scrimmage the nine-time state champion Trousdale County Yellow Jackets (July 29) and the 1986 state champion Spring Hill Raiders (Aug. 5) in the pre-season before a Forrest Jamboree matchup on August 13 versus the first-year Nolensville High School Knights, coached by former Ravenwood coach Will Hester.

"Spring Hill is a 4A school and will be very physical and very fast and I don't have to tell you about Trousdale County," Johns said.

Hornets await

Scrappy Osborne, a player who has always given maximum effort on the football field is looking to have a big season for the Rockets.

The regular season opens on Friday, August 19 when the Rockets host Huntland, who will be looking for some revenge after Forrest whipped the Hornets 35-0 in Franklin County last year on opening night.

"They (Huntland) have running back DJ Taylor coming back who is a Wake Forrest commit and also had an SEC offer from Vanderbilt," Johns said. "That is going to be a tough game and we will have our work cut out trying to stop him, so we will just be physical with him early on and go from there."

The Rockets lost 11 seniors from the squad that went undefeated in Region 4A, including the TSSAA 2015 Class 2A Lineman of the Year Mr. Football Boone Sweeney, who led an experienced offensive and defensive line along with seniors Neyland Darnell, Tristan Sawyer, Nic McGuiggan and Jessie Pruitt that has to be revamped.

"We are working around the clock to get ready, because we feel that we have to," Johns said. "We lost so many seniors from last year's team that were key players, so we are working hard to replace those guys."

Defensive Coordinator Eli Stephenson (right) oversees some drills along with a pair of Forrest alumni Colin Henson (left) and Matthew Delk (center), who have both joined the staff this season.

Alumni coaches

Back in school, or back at Forrest at least are two former Rocket alumni Colin Henson and Matthew Delk, two coaches that Johns feels will be very valuable.

"It's always good to get alumni back here because they care about this community and they care about this school," Johns said. "They are two young guys that are bringing a whole lot of energy and a whole lot of new ideas that we needed."

Leading the Rockets this season will be TSWA All-State, All-Region 4A and highly recruited tight end Slayton Wild, who is looking to put up a huge season for Forrest on both sides of the ball.

"It feels really good to get back out here and just be with the guys and work every day and try to get better and repeat as region champs, so we are really excited about the season and can't wait to get back out there on Friday nights," Wild said. "We are working hard, we have big shoes to fill losing those seniors and we feel we owe them this hard work to go back and repeat as region champs."

Senior Slayton Wild will try to lead the Rockets to consecutive region titles.

Team leader

Wild had an outstanding season in all three phases of the game, leading the team with a 26.7 yards per kick return average, including one touchdown, while coming up 34 tackles, 2.5 sacks and he returned a fumble for a TD at East Robertson.

"We did lose a lot of leadership, but there has been people stepping up in those roles lately and that's what a team needs to have to be successful is leaders," Wild said. "We definitely have that (leadership) and we are all looking forward to seeing those guys step up in the season."

Wild rushed for 768 yards and seven TD and had six pass receptions and a score.

Nick McClendon will be one of the featured skill players this season for the Rockets.

Winning formula

It's not easy for the small Class A and 2A schools to accumulate great depth and there are not a bevy of 4 or 5-star athletes, but both Johns and Wild are comfortable with the Forrest formula of toughness, preparedness and a genuine love for the game and their school to be successful.

"We win by being tough and just battling," Wild said. "We work hard, we are physical, we want to run the ball down people throats and that's how we win football games around here."

Senior linebacker Billy Clanton, an all-region player last year, could be the key to the Forrest defense's aggressive style.