Q & A with New Owatonna High School Wrestling Coach
Derek Johnson grew up in a wrestling family. Get togethers frequently included some furniture rearranging to clear the way for a grudge match or two. His father was one of his coaching growing up. He was coached by Scot Davis, one of the most successful prep coaches in the country, and legendary Larry Hovden. All signs pointed toward Johnson getting into coaching. He was recently named as the new head varsity coach at Owatonna High School, pending school board approval.
Johnson calls the Owatonna wrestling community one of the best in the country. He has already started some of the groundwork he feels is important heading into the summer wrestling season. Johnson has coached in the youth program for the last six years and was a high school assistant in 2014. He's also excited to see that the Minnesota State High School League has expanded opportunities for girls wrestling with their own section and state tournament. Johnson says Owatonna has been a pioneer in girls wrestling.
Click below for a full interview with Johnson. A few excepts follow.
Roy Koenig (KRFO Sports): What thoughts come to mind about becoming head coach for the Huskies?
Derek Johnson: It's still pretty surreal for me. As a kid who grew up right as coach Scot Davis was revamping the youth program, I hopped in at kindergarten at that time in the late 80's. And then watching the program in the 90's as we had things like "Power Alley." And then having the opportunity to be part of an historic run, winning state in my freshman year as a team and then being in the state finals as a team my sophomore and junior years...
RK: You have some recent coaching history in the youth program. But was your dad a coach as well?
DJ: (when we moved to town) he hopped with Owatonna High School as an assistant. I had the opportunity to observe those practices and idolize some of those guys, again some of those really, really good 90's teams. He and Larry Hovden were the middle school coaches...Larry was a longtime middle school coach and kind of a legend around here.
At home it was always kind of a big deal, born into the wrestling community through both my dad and extended family. Uncles were involved. Every Thanksgiving was clearing out some area in the living room...It's kind of in my blood...
RK: What do you need to get ramped up?
DJ: The off season is so integral like most sports to develop that strength and conditioning, also getting some ancillary training. So I'm already talking with, and even before I was named head coach, I was putting my feelers out there to see what the spring and summer look like...
RK: What do you know about the current team/roster?
DJ: Quite a bit. I've stayed a fan all these years even though I haven't been in the high school room in a while. I've watched these kids grow up. I'm going to be reaching out and connecting with families...
RK: What are your thoughts on girls getting their own section and state tournament?
DJ: As a matter of fact, Owatonna has been one of the pioneers in the girls wrestling program anyway. So I think that's a great thing. We have a lot of talent in this town. There's a couple of stars that have made their impact nationally too, like Rian Grunwald. When I have hopped in and helped at camps in this area over the past year, it's astounding. We have over a dozen in this area...For Owatonna, I think we are well prepared to handle that type of expansion.
RK: Closing thoughts?
DJ: I love the opportunity because, quite honestly, I believe this is the strongest wrestling community in the United States, quite frankly. We've always out-traveled other teams, fan-wise. We've always so sophisticated in marketing. The mind of Scot Davis and the imprint that he has put on this area...I'm so thankful to have the opportunity to now take that torch and hopefully run with it and take it to the next level.