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Sunday July 5th, 2015 3:50AM

Johnson football ready to begin turnaround under Roquemore

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
OAKWOOD -- Jason Roquemore inherited a Johnson football program that had plenty of excuses to feel sorry for itself.

The Knights were coming off an 0-10 season, staring at a non-region schedule, and had just weeks to prepare for the 2012 campaign when Roquemore took over in June after former coach Paul Friel left the program in late May.

Roquemore says he's found anything but excuses in Oakwood, however.

"These kids are resilient," said Roquemore, who took the reins at Johnson after stints as a defensive coordinator at North Cobb Christian and Kennesaw Mountain High School. "I really feel the stars aligned for me to get this job. The kids have been great. They've done an amazing job of buying into what we're asking."

(Access North Georgia's high school football season preview is coming soon. In it we will include written previews of 29 area teams and include video interviews, schedules and everything you need to know about the 2012 season.)

What Roquemore and his staff are asking of the Knights is accountability -- in all aspects of their lives.

"It all boils down to how you live your lives on a daily basis," he said. "You've got to try to keep getting better every day, at everything from being a better player to being a better person, a better student, a better son."

Roquemore says he has already seen plenty of improvement -- both on the field and off -- in his short time in charge.

"We're just asking them to climb a little bit more every day, and we've already seen some big changes," Roquemore said. "It all starts with attitude, and these guys have shown me a great attitude and that they're ready to work."

Despite a rough few seasons on the scoreboard -- Johnson's rising senior class has experienced just five wins -- Roquemore sees a program that is still eager to fight.

"These kids we have are as hard working as anyone and believe they can compete with anyone and play with anyone -- they really believe that," Roquemore said. "I don't think that anything here was all that broken; we just have to keep working as hard as we can every day and improve each day. It's part of a process."

Aiding that process is a senior class that contains plenty of talent and size, as the Knights feature three returning starters on the offensive line. Mason Borders, John Averils and Lyrick Bright will look to clear a path for standout running back Cedric Harris in the double slot offense that Roquemore's staff is installing. Meanwhile, the defense features 2011 8-AAA All-Region noseguard Steve Rodriguez, a junior.

"We've got great senior leadership on this team, but we've also got a lot of young kids who are excited to get things going," Roquemore said. "We've got 23 freshmen on the roster, and it's slowly coming together for us right now. We want to be fundamentally sound and hard-nosed."

That hard-nosed mentality should come easy for a team that is aching for a win and energized by a new start.

"Everyone's excited right now," Roquemore said. "We're not going to make excuses. Winners have commitment; losers make excuses."

Roquemore also says his players aren't fazed by the switch to a non-region schedule for the 2012 campaign -- a decision that was made in December 2011.

"We don't look at it as a negative," Roquemore said. "I think that decision was made with the thought to do what's best for the kids at the time, and the kids never got down about it. And if you look at it, it's a very competitive non-region schedule."

It all starts with a rivalry showdown with West Hall -- a program also under a new coaching staff -- on Aug. 24 at Johnson's Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium. And after weeks of hard work and watching his new program, Roquemore says his players are ready to continue the turnaround process.

"We're ready to move forward," Roquemore said. "We want to get this program back to where we think it should be."

Listen to WDUN AM 550/102.9 FM at 6 p.m. Aug. 17 for the return of High School Sports Unlimited and their special season preview show.
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