FIRE BREATHER EPISODE 2
High School football is about making memories that last a lifetime. No other sport connects classmates like football, and at no other level do you develop those connections like you do in High School. In 1996, the Red Dragons had assembled a team blessed with speed and size, and were coming off a strong 7-2 record the previous year. Their goal was to reach the turf field in Altoona, and bring home another district title for PL.
That 1996 team fought adversity throughout the season, but did indeed battle their way into the District 5/6 title game that November in Altoona. Unfortunately, the Moshannon Valley Black Knights, ended their run at the title that day, but a memory was forever etched in each players mind and in Red Dragon Football History. Coach Jim Price summarized that team with the following statement, “The 1996 team was a special group of young men. There was an intense dedication not only on the field of play but also in the preparation phase for getting ready for the season. There were not excuses for not being in the weight room, not coming to conditioning, or not going to 7 on 7 camps. Not only did the skill positions players want to go to 7 on 7 but the linemen always showed up. This meant we had a lot of extra centers, tight ends and linebackers.”
Rich Johns was all of 6’3”, 250 lbs at the Tackle position that 8 win season, and he bulldozed opposing defenses, with his strength and athleticism all year long. He went on to be named Gazetteland Lineman of the Year, SAFCA Offensive MVP, then after graduation he continued his career at IUP, where he played on the 1999 Northeast Championship team that went to the Division II final four. Coach Price described Rich this way, “He was a leader both on the field and off the field. His dedication to himself and the team was second to none. He was our strong side offensive tackle and a stalwart defensive tackle in our 4-4 scheme. It was a pleasure and a privilege to coach Rich, this group of young men, and all of the other groups of young men that played for me while I was the football coach here at Purchase Line. I was surely blessed to have the acquaintance of so many good young men and the opportunity to work with them on the football field.”
When asked to speak about his time at PL, Rich Johns stated, “My most vivid memories are the ones I shared with my teammates I grew up with at Purchase Line. No matter how long it has been since we talked, we can pick up and tell stories like it was yesterday about our times we shared with our teammates. I was blessed enough to play on some great teams in college, and coach some great teams in high school, but I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences in for the days of playing on the top of the hill at Purchase Line.”
You only have to spend about 5 minutes with Rich Johns to know that he’s a Fire Breather to the core. He still looks like he could start at Tackle at any level, and his passion for football is through the roof. He recites Western PA and Indiana County football history, and especially PL football history, like he majored in it in college. That passion, led him to becoming IUP’s Student Coach after an injury ended his college career. He helped with the O-line and Strengh & Conditioning from 2000-2002. After graduation, he became a teacher, first at Woodland Hills Jr. High for a year, then the last 10 years at Springdale Jr./Sr. High School. From 2003-2011, he coached for Franklin Regional High School, serving as O-line and strength and conditioning coach, and in 2010-11 their Defensive Coordinator. While there, Franklin Regional put together 8 consecutive playoff appearances, twice were WPIAL semifinalists, in 2005 they won the AAA WPIAL and PIAA state championship. In 2011, Johns defense was the number one ranked defense in both AAA and AAAA in the WPIAL. Along the way he coached many great players, including John Malecki, who went to Pitt and is currently a Pittsburgh Steeler, AJ Strum, who played briefly for the Detroit Lions, and Sean Hickey who currently is at Syracuse University. In 2012, he made the move to Penn Hills HS, where he currently coaches, and serves as Assistant Head Coach, O-line Coach, Strength and Conditioning, and Defensive Coordinator.
Rich Johns resides in Vandergrift, PA where he and his wife Jessica are raising 3 daughters, Abbie, Hannah, and Rachel. He closed his comments with the following, “We still follow PL football closely. We all hope that current players take as much pride in the name on the front of the jersey as we did. I know that many of us would compare ourselves to the 1990 team that we all grew up idolizing, just hoping we could make it to Mansion Park also. Since the 1990’s we have had some really good teams and hopefully current players put forth the efforts to get the program back where it can be. Current players please realize that you are playing for not only yourself and your teammates, but you play for your family, school, the community, and the ones that wore the jerseys before you with pride. Go Dragons.” Spoken like a football player, a coach and a Fire Breather.
***THE FIRE BREATHER SERIES IS INTENDED TO REVIST SOME OF OUR GREATEST FOOTBALL PLAYERS. THE DEFINITION OF A FIRE BREATHER, IS SOMEONE WHO IS A PASSIONATE, DRIVEN INDIVIDUAL WHO THROUGH HARD WORK HAS TAKEN THEIR GOD GIVEN TALENT AND CREATED SUCCESS AND MADE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON AND OFF THE FOOTBALL FIELD. THESE STORIES SERVE AS A TESTAMENT TO THE VALUE OF SPORT, IN DEVELOPING LIFE LONG CHARACTER TRAITS IN YOUNG MEN. IF ANYONE HAS ANY PERSONS IN MIND FOR FUTURE EPISODES, PLEASE DROP ME AN EMAIL. IT IS OUR GOAL TO CONTINUE TO DEVELOP FIRE BREATHERS AT PLHS THROUGH OUR FOOTBALL PROGRAM.