Football: Cherokee Trail tabs former ThunderRidge coach Joe Johnson for head job

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The Cherokee Trail football team will be under new leadership in the 2017 season as Joe Johnson has been hired as the program’s head football coach. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | After sifting through a pool of around 50 legitimate candidates for its head football coaching job, Cherokee Trail officially announced the hiring of veteran coach Joe Johnson Tuesday.

Cougars athletic director Steve Carpenter was pleased to welcome Johnson, who has spent 16 successful seasons as head coach at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch. He will also serve as an upper level science teacher at Cherokee Trail.

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Joe Johnson. (Photo courtesy ThunderRidge High School website)

Johnson becomes the third head coach in as many seasons for Cherokee Trail, following one year under Dain Mangnall and 12 years under the program’s original coach, Monte Thelen. Mangnall stepped down in January after a 5-6 record and loss to Valor Christian in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs in 2016.

“We’re extremely excited and grateful to have Joe here,” Carpenter told the Sentinel. “His wealth of knowledge is big, as is his head coaching experience and the success that he’s had. He’s obviously big on integrity and we’re really looking forward to the model he has used and tested in the past.”

Johnson — 78-36 in the past decade at ThunderRidge — becomes the second new Aurora head coach following Overland’s pick of Steve Sewell to succeed Seth Replogle, who stepped down for health reasons. Gateway is also in the process of hiring a new head coach.

The Cherokee Trail program has made the playoffs in 12 of its 13 seasons and Johnson’s ThunderRidge teams have become postseason regulars as well.

Last season marked the first time in the past decade the Grizzlies didn’t qualify for the playoffs, as they finished 4-6 and in the middle of the pack in the Mount Cameron League.

Before that, ThunderRidge made back-to-back semifinal appearances in 2012 and 2013, both 11-2 seasons.

Cherokee Trail beat Johnson’s Grizzlies in the second round of the 2010 playoffs.

The Cougars graduated a significant amount of talent, but expect to return their quarterback in Ethan Leisge — who threw for 779 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016 — plus versatile running back Dylan James and a variety of defensive players, including defensive end Calvin Rodriguez, who tied for second on the team with six sacks last season.

Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel

JOE JOHNSON AT THUNDERRIDGE (SINCE 2007)

2016: 4-6 overall (missed Class 5A playoffs); 2015: 7-5 overall (lost in quarterfinals of 5A playoffs); 2014: 4-6 overall (lost in 1st round of 5A playoffs); 2013: 11-2 overall (lost in semifinals of 5A playoffs); 2012: 11-2 overall (lost in semifinals of 5A playoffs); 2011: 8-3 overall (lost in 2nd round of 5A playoffs); 2010: 6-5 overall (lost in 2nd round of 5A playoffs); 2009: 9-3 overall (lost in quarterfinals of 5A playoffs); 2008: 10-1 overall (lost in 2nd round of 5A playoffs); 2007: 8-3 overall (lost in 1st round of 4A playoffs)