It’s not often that a coach is willing to convert to a lessis-more philosophy, especially in just the second year with a team, but for St. Pius X head coach Charles Johnson, he realized that in order for the Panthers to achieve success this season, he’d need to take a step back.
“Last year, I tried to manage too much myself,” Johnson said.
This season, not only did he want his assistant coaches to take more of an active management role but he wanted his players to do so as well.
“We put a lot of the leadership and everyday checks and balances in the hands of the players to make sure they check themselves,” he said.
Once tryouts happened and the roster had been finalized, Johnson and his staff gathered the team and provided them with a dry-erase board and a marker and told them to come up with qualities of a great leader.
The staff left and told the players to come get them when they thought they were finished.
“We didn’t check it,” he said. “We told them, ‘OK, now pick your leaders with those characteristics.’ They all got
together and selected their leaders based on what they thought were important characteristics of a leader.”
The Panthers chose three leaders based on what they all agreed were critical traits. They decided on junior Matt Dillard and seniors James Long and Colston Lloyd.
The rest of the team was then divided into three squads, which are called family groups, and the captains were given a group to manage.
Johnson said that the captains are responsible for checking in with his group to see how they are performing in the classroom, leading drills and stretches and making sure the players are on time. While he isn’t an official team captain, Johnson also praised sophomore catcher Alex Lopez for his leadership attributes and dedication to the team.
Lopez, who led the Panthers in home runs last season despite sitting out a few games due to injury, will be the fulltime starter at catcher and will look to be a potent slugger for SPX once again this year. Junior Tyler Vrabel, who is new to the team after transferring to SPX last spring, is another powerful hitter who the Panthers will deploy to get runs.
Although the batting order has not been officially set, Johnson said that his leadoff hitter is junior outfielder and speedster Bryson Jackson who made a name for himself as a top receiver this past football season as he accumulated over 1600 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“He hit a ball over that scoreboard in a scrimmage,” Johnson said as he pointed toward centerfield. “He was already standing on second base by the time the ball went over. He hits the ball and runs his tail off.”
Johnson said that the Panthers are going to have a lot more power and speed on offense than last year and added that the pitching rotation will be much more improved.
Team captains Dillard and Lloyd are two of the starters in the pitching staff as well as junior Cooper Padden. Junior Billy Ross, who is new to the program, will serve as the closer for team. Johnson said that he expects to use a couple of other players at pitcher, but they will predominantly play other positions.
“The pitching, we’ve got depth and we’re pretty talented at the top, so we’ll be good on that end,” said Johnson. “We’ve got a good problem as far as trying to get guys innings.