MARSHALL - Helping develop a solid foundation for soccer within the Marshall community has been Pat Johnson's ambition since he became involved in the Marshall United Soccer Association youth program 10 years ago.
Leading the United under-16 team to Marshall youth soccer's first-ever state championship in 2010, he was able to see his work and the work of others pay off in a big way. Now, Johnson is taking on a new role, but his aim remains the same.
Monday, Johnson was named the new head coach of the Marshall High School soccer program. He takes over for Brandon Thompson, who had led the Tigers since the program's inception in 2005 and stepped down following the 2011 season.
When looking for a new coach to lead the program into the future, Marshall High School activities director Bruce Remme said Johnson was a perfect fit.
"We were certainly excited when Pat applied," Remme said. "He's a soccer guy and he's been involved in the soccer community in Marshall for a long time.
"One of our goals when looking to fill this position was to strengthen the relationship between the high school program and the youth program here in town. We believe Pat is the perfect person to do that with his past involvement in the youth organization."
While Johnson has had success at the youth level, leading teams to state tournaments three times, the Marshall High School program has had its struggles. Over the past four seasons, the Tigers have won just 11 games, including a 2-8-1 season last year.
Last year, Marshall had just one senior on its roster in Austin Luther. The young roster was comprised mostly of sophomores.
"Our program has had a few years here where participation rates have gone down," Johnson said, "and I really want to bring an approach where we're going to have a lot of fun to get our participation rates up, get more kids playing, get our younger kids playing once they see a varsity-level team that's really playing well together.
"We're really excited about it. We're going to have a fun year this year."
Remembering his players' names shouldn't be much of a problem in Johnson's first year leading the Tigers considering he's coached many of them before. His son, Trevor, will be a senior for 2012 and was one of the leaders of the under-16 state title team in 2010.
Johnson said five starters and several reserves from the state championship team will be on the Tigers' varsity team next season, so he knows the talent will be there for the team to win games. The key will be ironing out some areas that have tripped up the players once they've gotten into the high school season.
"The style of play that we've played in the summer and then during the high school season has been basically the same style of play with a lot of the same kids," Johnson said. "It's just getting that little edge here and there, little advantage here and there, putting the right players in the right places and then finding ways to win those close games.
"Our high school teams the last several years have been very competitive, it's just been that they've come up against some good competition in our section and losing close games."
Johnson, who is also a pastor and owns the local Perkins restaurant, said the players should already be familiar with the style of play he plans on implementing. There will be a focus on defense and playing patiently while controlling possession on offense.
Although he's confident in his team for the upcoming season, Johnson doesn't want to make any guarantees about a quick turnaround. Still, he thinks the Tigers will see their fair share of success.
"Ethan Hart, Trevor Johnson, those guys have won a ton of games over the years," he said. "They're the ones who play the game and will have a say in the outcome, so I fully anticipate they're going to want to be as competitive as they can be right out of the gate.
"Wins and losses? I think it's too early to talk about that. We'll let them talk about it with what they do on the field."