By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Jason Johnson is ready to experience the State Baseball Tournament in a Munford Cougar uniform.
This summer, the former Cougar player was named head coach. Before he arrived to the program in 1996, Munford reached the top of the Tennessee baseball mountain in 1991. Once Johnson graduated in 1999, an era of dominance started under former Head Coach Tommy Densford with multiple trips to the State Tournament.
“We were about .500 during my playing days,” he recalled. “I was right in the middle of the success. A little bit before me, the program has success. And then after me they had some good teams.”
Now Johnson’s mission is get the Cougar program back to that level. In recent years Munford Baseball has been competitive but coming up short in districts. Johnson said one solution to that issue is conditioning.
“We’ve been focusing a lot this year on conditioning,” he said. “We’ve had a great off-season conditioning program. And the conditioning that we did was just as much mental as it was physical.
“We had 5:30 a.m. workouts during a two-week period that we called ‘County Fair,’” Johnson added. “We did the insanity program. We started at a mile and half. Then the boys were up to three and half miles that they were running on our distance days. They had to do that in 8-minute mile times.”
Johnson said he wanted to teach his players to push their body a little bit further in order to strengthen their minds and know they can overcome an obstacle.
The first-year head coach said his pitching staff will be mentally strong. Some of the arms on the staff will be Hunter Barber, Josh Hibbard, JC Trobaugh and Jesse Charles.
“We have a lot of depth in our pitching,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to see how they shake out and who’s going to be in what role.”
Middle relievers and closers will be Zach Walker, Darian Houston, Ty Gillespie, John Luke Reagan, Tanner Hobson and Jase Hutchison.
Hutchison will also be the other part of the battery as the catcher. Hutchison is entering his fourth year of varsity.
His experience and 195-pound muscular frame will be counted on to also produce runs for the Cougars. Hutchison is one of 12 seniors on the 19-man varsity roster.
“We’re an experienced team,” Johnson noted. “But with being a new program, they don’t know our ways. We’re having to teach the seniors our ways like we’re having to teach the freshmen. But they’ve picked up on it and bought into it up til this point. And we’re excited about it.”
Johnson is also excited about his batting order with multiple pieces he can plug into the line up.
“I’m a very offensive-minded guy,” he acknowledged. “The way I see baseball, you can put the best possible defense out there and have the best pitcher on the mound, but give up one run to a home run and lose 1-0.
“You can make six errors, give up 9 runs and score 14, you still win,” Johnson continued. “I look at my lineup from the offensive side of it. I try to put the best hitters on the field.”
The middle of the order will be players like Hutchison, Trobaugh, Barber and Hibbert. The speed guys near the top of the lineup and bottom will be like Brandon Young and Ryan Haynes.
Johnson acknowledged an adjustment period will still be their throughout March and April. But he said the aggression he wants to see is already there.
“One of the things we’ve tried to instill is a gritty atmosphere,” he said. “You play hard. You don’t get out of the way of the 0-2 curve ball that’s coming inside. You’ve got to take that. We’re going to look to get freebies whether it’s walks, hit by pitches or stealing bases.
“We’re going to be a very aggressive team,” Johnson concluded. “In that aggression, try to steal some run and outscore people in ways. Not that we won’t have a good pitching staff. I’m excited about our ability to play defense and make plays. But we want to score runs and put runs on the board.”