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Callaway has new basketball coach

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

There’ll be a new head Cavalier when the 2020-2021 basketball season begins.

Andre Johnson, following a successful two-year coaching stint at Callaway Middle School, is set to take over the boys’ basketball program at Callaway High.

Johnson replaces Terry Hayes, who outside of a two-year stretch, is the only boys’ coach Callaway has ever had.

“I’m looking forward to the energy and the enthusiasm coach Johnson will bring to our basketball program at Callaway High School,” said Pete Wiggins, Callaway’s head football coach and athletics director. “I think he has great relationships with the students at Callaway Middle School, and at Callaway High School. I’ve watched him work with our basketball program at the middle school, and I’ve watched him work with our track program (at Callaway High) this spring, and I think he’s doing a great job.”

Johnson, a 2007 graduate of Lanett High, is eager to take on the challenge and begin working with the players who helped the Cavaliers go 14-8 and reach the state tournament last season.

“It’s exciting,” Johnson said. “I told coach (Wiggins), I’m ready. Looking at the key pieces that I saw that are returning, (Demetrius) Coleman, Javontay Boddie, and (Jalin) Shephard, and (Charlie) Dixon, I felt like they’re returning a good core with just those guys from watching from the sidelines. I’m ready to get into the gym, and ready to see what these guys can do.”

After graduating from Jacksonville State, Johnson began his coaching career at his alma mater, and he was at Lanett for one season.

After spending one season at Smiths Station as a basketball coach, Johnson came to Troup County and coached at Long Cane Middle School during the 2017-2018 school year.

Johnson has been at Callaway Middle School the past two seasons, and the 2019-2020 season culminated with a win over Gardner Newman in the county championship game.

While this will be Johnson’s first head-coaching position on the high-school level, he does have experience leading a team.

“When I was at Smiths Station, I was the girls head coach for the (junior varsity), and assistant coach for varsity, so I got to be a head coach while I was there,” Johnson said. “So, it kind of molded me and showed me some different roles.

“I tell everybody, when you’ve been an assistant and you step up to the lead role like I did at the middle school, it’s like being put under a magnifying glass. So now I’m stepping up to be an even bigger platform. Sometimes you have to be willing to step up and take that role. I’m pretty sure as long as I keep God first, I’ll have success.”

Johnson is appreciative of the coaches who have helped lead him to this point.

“I’ve had some great coaches that have instilled some things in me, but definitely back in the day playing for Lanett and Steven Davis,” Johnson said. “I give credit to him, and I give credit to the girls’ head coach (at Lanett), Charlie Williams. They are the two people that really molded me, from the second grade on up, with football and basketball. They instilled some beliefs in me, defense, hard work, that grit.”

Johnson is also grateful to the people at Callaway Middle School, including principal Amy Thornton, who gave him a chance to further his career

“It started with principal Thornton,” Johnson said. “She came in her first year and not only gave me a job, but her and coach (Kerry) Woodard said we trust you to lead these young men.”

For Johnson, leading a basketball team is about more than Xs and Os, it’s about teaching values, and his faith is a driving force in all things he does.

“I’m a big religious person,” Johnson said. “If you do things the right way, it helps you excel. The more you keep God first, and make sure you take care of everything you need to take care of, the rest will fall in line. I definitely do that with my boys. The last two years, with my middle-school boys, I do grab them the weekend before the season starts right after we have tryouts, and we share a weekend together. I have them do fun activities to build a brotherhood, and we always go to church, and we worship together. I tell them it’s more than basketball. Everybody plays a key piece, no matter what you do.”

As Johnson looks forward to his first season at Callaway, there is one game that’s particularly intriguing.

One of Callaway’s non-region games will be against his old school, Lanett.

“It’ll be different to be on the other side, and coach against Lanett,” Johnson said. “At the same time, they know it’s all love. I can definitely say since I became head coach I’ve gotten a lot of well wishes (from Lanett).”