by Zack Cohen | Sports Editor
Dressed like a typical high school football coach- a collared football shirt, and gym shorts- Johnson Jaguar head football coach Ron Rittimann sits in his coaching office, watching film on their upcoming opponent for that weeks game. The Jags were preparing to take on the Churchill Chargers, in what most thought would be a warm up game before they take on their biggest rival, Reagan. However, the key word there is “most.” As for coach Rittimann, this game was just as big as any other game on the schedule
“The bottom line is that in District 26-5A, you’re gonna play a tough team every Friday. Every weekend is tough game, you can never look forward.” Rittimann said.
With the Reagan game looming just a week away, the 21 year seasoned coach was dead set on making sure his players didn’t overlook their opponent that night. Fortunately, he instilled that mindset in his team as the Jags had to claw their way to victory in dramatic fashion with a touchdown as time expired and a successful two-point conversion to pick up the 22-21 win.
“We need to be focused on taking care of business this week, because we do have a good football team, and as long as we stay focused on what’s important, we will have success. And when the time comes to get ready for the next opponent then we switch gears and go to the next opponent.” Rittimann said.
This week’s opponent is Reagan; Johnson’s longtime rival and sister school. This year will mark the first instance in which the players of the varsity squad will be entirely trained and taught in-house.
“I think it’s a natural rivalry between Johnson and Reagan because of the communities being so close. As far as the football program goes, it’s just another district game, it’s just another step, another game if we win makes us closer to our goals. So it’s gonna be a big game.” Rittimann said.
This year’s game is going to be a little different than those in years past. The Jags are currently 2nd place in the district, and would pick up their first District Title in school history with a win on Friday.
“We’re happy to be playing for the district title, regardless of who its against; it just happens to be [Reagan]. But yeah, it would be great to beat them and be called District Champs, it’s a tough district,” Rittimann said.
With the dream of winning their first district title in the history of the football program within reach, the 4th-year Johnson coach will go into this game with a different attitude.
“It does change your mindset. But this year, with the way it’s playing out, this game could mean a lot for the seeding in the playoffs,” Rittimann said. “You want to be the higher seed, so in theory you can play an easier team in the playoffs, but that’s not always true either.”
Coach Rittimann was able to lead Johnson to their first victory over Reagan last year. But that was last year. This year is different, and both players and coach recognize that an alternate outcome is very possible.
“Every year is separate. At the beginning, when we started our program, we knew we were gonna take a few lumps along the way, and they were one of the teams that we took a lump from.” Rittimann said.
Rittimann then reminisced on the first three years of the rivalry,
“In the second year, we had the lead in the third quarter and then they made a few plays in the second half and came back and got us. And I think that was the night that our kids realized that they could play with them and they could beat them. And then last year, I thought we really controlled the game from beginning to end.” Rittimann said.
But Rittimann maintains that on the field, anything-is-possible mentality; and the Jags will have to make a great effort to see their desired ends.
“This year is totally different. The last three years will have no effect on this game because our teams are different; their team is different.”
Rest assured, Rittimann is going to do everything he can to prepare his team for the big game.
“Both teams are playing really well right now, so it should be a great game,” he said. “With the history of what’s happened, I’d say our kids are gonna be very focused and ready to play.”
As the head football coach and athletic director, Rittimann has been involved in this rivalry for the entirety of Johnson’s existence. But the administration has a newcomer in our new principal, John Mehlbrech. Mehlbrech left Tejeda Middle School to become a Jaguar in the summer of 2010. However, having entered this rivalry later than others doesn’t make him any less passionate about it.
“Whether it’s football, or volleyball, academics, fine arts, we feel we are top-notch. And whoever is in our way that we have to beat, then so be it. And I want it to be an expectation that we beat Reagan all the time,” Mehlbrech said.
As previously stated, Mehlbrech recently came from Tejeda, so his familiarity with the student body is as strong as that of any other faculty member in the Double-J Nation,
“Most of the kids that are here are the kids I’ve seen grow up and I do want to see them continue to be successful and I know that they can.” Mehlbrech said.
That success truly took root last year when the Jags’ football team picked up their first-ever victory over the team on the ‘bad side of 281’.
“In athletics, you always try to find a niche; that you can say you have bragging rights, that ‘we beat you.’” Mehlbrech said.
Since Mehlbrech arrived, the Jags have picked up several major victories over Reagan, whether on the playing field or in UIL-based competitions. When asked if he considered himself a good-luck charm, the principal remained humble,
“Call it what it is. I think they would have beat them whether I was here or not. I’m the one that’s lucky to be in the place to see it happen.” Mehlbrech said.