In his first season as a head coach, Pat Johnston is going back to his roots.
The former Carmel High standout quarterback and Cal Poly player and coach is bringing the spread offense that made him such a prolific passer in high school as well as several other former Mustangs to San Luis Obispo High, where he hopes to begin building a consistent contender after a disappointing end to the 2013 season.
Before Johnston set his sights on league championships, however, he first had to get himself acclimated to the high school ranks.
“I’m definitely getting more settled in,” said Johnston, who was hired in February following the resignation of David Kelley after five seasons. “I don’t think I’ll be 100 percent settled in until this time next year after I’ve gone through the full-year revolution.”
Under Kelley and his triple-option offense, the Tigers started 2013 with three straight wins before finishing the year with three straight losses and were 1-5 in the PAC 7.
Players said there’s a renewed excitement and attitude with Johnston, who added former Cal Poly players Ken Johnston (his brother), former Great West defensive player of the year Marty Mohamed, Connor Odisio and Andy Alcaraz to the coaching staff.
“Everything just seems really energetic,” said senior Sam Thompson, who replaces the graduated Thomas Orradre at quarterback. “It’s fun to come out to practice, and I feel like we’re getting a lot done, too.
“It’s definitely different, in a better way.”
The Tigers have been working relentlessly over the offseason to learn all the new terminology that comes with different offensive and defensive schemes. Going from the triple option to the spread is a complete overhaul that requires different technique and responsibilities from its players.
“I’m definitely never taking anything away from the triple option because I really like it as an offense,” Johnston said, “but I think the guys here and the community was ready for something different.”
Added Thompson: “This offseason, we’ve done more passing than I’ve done in my life.” The Tiger who figures to be the main focus of those passes is senior Nate Greenelsh, who rushed for 1,115 combined yards over the past two seasons.
“I like it,” Greenelsh said of the spread. “I can go for passes and sweeps now, I’m not just only running or blocking.”
The reigning PAC 7 champion in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, Greenelsh is the type of talent San Luis Obispo wants to get the ball whenever he’s in space.
“When you get it to Nate in the open field,” Thompson said, “you can expect a lot to happen.” But a good runner can’t do much without a solid offensive line, an area Johnston highlighted as one of his team’s strongest.
“Our boys up front; you’ve got to start there,” he said. “It’s a veteran group, and it’s a smart group.”
The line returns Joe Bravo, Ryan Clayton, Eduardo Hernandez and Jeremy Donk, and welcomes David Chellsen who, at 6-5, 248 pounds Johnston said has “a collegiate-style offensive line body.”
“Definitely having guys with experience helps,” Bravo said, “not just on the line, but all over. “There’s definitely been a lot of changes, and I feel like a lot of it has been for good. We’ve got a great group of guys, and we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”