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State title fits nicely in the family album.

Byline: JEFF SMITH The Register-Guard

As Marty Johnson watched the images of the video celebrating Sheldon football's success at Sunday night's team banquet, one thought kept coming into his mind.

"How could it get any better?" Johnson thought to himself.

A day earlier, the sixth-year Sheldon coach had led the top-ranked Irish football team to the school's first Class 4A state championship in a 31-24 win over Lake Oswego at PGE Park.

Johnson had been able to guide a 23-member senior class that he realizes "you rarely get as a coach."

And he was able to do so with his younger brother, Lane, serving as his defensive coordinator and his father, John, there as an assistant coach. Also, his 10-year old son, Jordan, was able to experience it all as one of the team's ball boys.

"It's an awesome deal to be able to share it with your family," Marty Johnson said. "Lane's an incredible coach and an even better person, and then to get my dad up here has been icing on the cake."

It truly was a storybook season for the Johnson family, but as of Monday afternoon, it still hadn't quite sunk in that Sheldon had won a state title, even with the tape of the televised game playing in the coaches' office.

"Every time I see something about state champions, I go, `We're the state champs?' ' Lane Johnson said.

The Irish became the first Midwestern League team to win a state title since Marshfield in 1992 and the first Eugene-Springfield area school to do so since Churchill shared the crown in 1977. Marty Johnson admitted that there was a greater sense of relief that Sheldon (14-0) made it through the league and playoffs unscathed, especially since he wasn't even certain his team could reach the playoffs.

"I don't know about the players, but I sure felt a lot of pressure at the start of this season," Marty Johnson said. "Everybody was talking about getting back to state, and I was worrying about getting out of our league."

After beating Beaverton 31-28 on the road to open the season, the No. 1 Irish eased some of Johnson's worries by outscoring their first seven league opponents 352-38 to set up a showdown with Willamette in the league finale.

The Irish's prolific offense was shut down by Willamette, but Sheldon still found a way to win, 10-7, after senior Jarvis Tanquary went 86 yards on a last-minute double-reverse kickoff return.

"By all rights, that game was over, and all of a sudden they pulled it out of the hat," said Marty Johnson, adding that it was the first kickoff return for a score in his six years at Sheldon.

The Irish then survived a tough playoff draw and beat Oregon City (28-7), No. 3 McNary (37-20), No. 2 Beaverton (31-21) and Clackamas (49-14) to set up Saturday's win over Lake Oswego.

"It's shocking to think that of all the players and all the teams in this state, I'm a part of the best one," senior Jared Souder said.

"It was amazing, but in a way it's bittersweet because these seniors are so remarkable," Marty Johnson said. "I wish I was half as mature as they are when I was 18."

Senior quarterback Alex Brink finished his career as the unofficial state prep record-holder for career passing yards (9,000) and is second on the unofficial list for touchdown passes (90). Brink was 35-3 in three years as a starter and this season completed 228-of-366 for 3,928 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Lane Johnson said that Brink was "hands down" the state's best player this fall. He previously coached at Glencoe in Hillsboro and was an assistant for the 1994 team that won it all behind the running of Ben Petrick, now a member of the Colorado Rockies.

"I've always believed that one of the key ingredients to winning the state title is you've got to have the best athlete," Lane Johnson said. "We had that in Petrick in '94 and Brink this year."

Of course, it takes more than one athlete to win, and both the Johnson brothers give credit to each other for their success.

Lane Johnson was in the interview process for the head coaching job at Hermiston when he heard that Marty had been offered the job at Sheldon.

"Right away, I dropped the Hermiston deal because the chance to coach with your brother was probably not going to happen again," Lane Johnson said. "It's a special bond that you have. He's been my best friend and, other than my wife, I'm closer to him than anybody."

The two joined forces with the Irish and helped steer Sheldon on a steep upward climb. Through it all, the Johnson brothers have grown closer with each other, and with the other coaches and players.

And as each watched the video Sunday night at the team banquet, put together by a close family friend of senior Chris Baltzer, the two coaches couldn't help but let out their emotions.

"This is my 17th year of coaching, and I've never seen anything like it," Lane Johnson said. "I get choked up just thinking about it."

For Marty Johnson, it emphasized just how tightknit his program had become.

"Watching all those tough, hard-nosed kids breaking down was really something," Marty Johnson said. "You feel like a big family. There weren't many dry eyes. It was pretty emotional and a special way to end it."


Sheldon Head Coach Marty Johnson gets a dousing of ice water as the Irish win the State Football Championship. (CHRIS PIETSCH/The Register-Guard) Saturday, December 7, 2002 CHRIS PIETSCH / The Register-Guard Sheldon head coach Marty Johnson gets a dousing of ice water after the Irish won the Class 4A state football championship Saturday in Portland. "It's an awesome deal to be able to share it with your family." - MARTY JOHNSON, Sheldon football coach
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Title Annotation:4A football: Leading Sheldon to an unbeaten season is satisfying for the Johnson family.; Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 10, 2002
Previous Article:Ducks preparing to take act on the road.
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