Buford High School's Tom Riden Stadium. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

Four Questions with Buford director of football operations Justin Johnson

GHSF Daily is expanding its Four Questions feature this season beyond head coaches to other voices in high school football. Today's interviewee is Buford director of football operations Justin Johnson, a math teacher who actually never played football himself. His title is a relatively new one at the high school level, but reflects the growing business and complexity of the sport in hotbed football states such as Georgia.

Justin Johnson, Buford director of football operations 

1. What does your job entail and how did you get started? ''Man, where do I start. I've had the role for about nine years now, and it has definitely evolved. My basic responsibilities are handling any details/logistics that have nothing to do with what happens 'on the grass.' So, that includes everything from media, transportation, team meals, paperwork, scheduling, statistics, that coaches don't want to deal with. I also handle all corporate sponsors and those relationships as well. 

''Quick background on me: I've never put on a set of pads in my life. I was asked to come on staff with our football team by Jess Simpson back in 2005 and worked as ninth-grade line coach basically learning on the job. I was the 'young single guy' on the staff and was given a variety of responsibilities to take on and given an inside look at some of the day-to-day activities that Coach Simpson dealt with. In 2007 he asked me to move away from the field into a director-of-operations role. I was able to plan trips for our football team to play in Canton, Ohio [2007] and Dallas, Texas [2008] and I was hooked." 

2. What are the forces taking place in high school football that have made such a position an important one on a staff? "One of the factors is a trickle-down effect of the 'juggernaut' that is football in the U.S. Head coaches, particularly at a school like Buford, are now asked to do so much more off the field than ever. I don't know how some of your larger high-profile programs do not have a DFO. I've met a couple of other coaches who have moved into a similar role that I have, but honestly I don't remember seeing these until the past couple of years. I don't say that to make me sound like some kind of torch-bearer, but rather to reiterate my earlier point that the business of football is moving to the high school level." 

3. What parts of your job is the most challenging? "My job as DFO has expanded the past couple of years to also include other sports in our athletic department, primarily dealing with transportation. Stressful moments in the past couple of years have included trying to book a charter bus for a girls basketball team, which I don't coach, for a state championship game in Macon while teaching a full load of courses to a class full of students. Game day hits, and the bus drivers are on strict schedules because of 'sleep time,' but the games fell behind schedule, and the drivers were threatening to leave. I was the contact, and that was not a fun day. I'll say it's also stressful when you plan a meal for 150 coaches/players on the road and the expectation of your head coach, Jess Simpson, is that the meal is sitting on the table waiting on the kids, totally ignoring what they are allowed to do by food service guidelines. Those were always stressful times as I couldn't make them cook chicken sandwiches fast enough." 

4. What's the most enjoyable/rewarding part of your job? "There are several aspects that I enjoy and find rewarding. First, I enjoy helping put together a first-class product for our coaches, players, sponsors and community. It's definitely not a one-person job, but I really enjoy cultivating and protecting the branding of Buford football. Second, I get to work with our entire football program. I'm not limited to only one position group or a certain group of coaches. I get to interact with each player and coach in our program in a unique manner that no one else on our staff is afforded. And while some tasks are set, what I do still enjoy about this job is that it is ever-changing based on what our coaching staff and players need in order to make Buford football great. I want coaches to worry about coaching, players to worry about playing, and I'll take on whatever distractions may be in their way." 

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