Ailing coach’s speech fires up Cardinals |

Ailing coach’s speech fires up Cardinals

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colo

PARACHUTE ” Grand Valley’s football team had a little extra motivation to win on Friday.

The Cardinals desperately wanted a win for their ailing coach, and that’s just what they did, beating up on Gunnison 42-0.

Last Friday, on the day of his squad’s game at Hayden, Cardinals coach Mike Johnson found himself in the hospital to undergo an emergency appendectomy.

Unfortunately for the ninth-year Grand Valley frontman, his health problems did­n’t end with the surgery. A procedure­related infection landed Johnson back in the hospital a couple days later.

The whole episode left players rattled, and it showed in the game against Hay­den.

“It came as a surprise-type deal for all of us,” said fill-in head coach Jeremy Tanner. “I think the kids were a little preoccupied with (Coach Johnson’s situation).”

The end result: a 28-7 defeat. Players’ minds just weren’t in the game.

“That really affected us, actually,” senior Cole Kraft said. “We really didn’t show up for that game.”

Grand Valley’s players had no problem showing up Friday night.

With Johnson at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, his Cardinals pum­meled Gunnison back in Parachute. And you better believe every single Cardinal played with his ailing coach in mind.

“We were real fired up,” senior Dalton Penner said. “It meant a lot to us. We knew he’d give anything to watch us. We knew he was thinking about us, listening on the radio.”

Johnson listened to Grand Valley rack up all 42 of its points by halftime. He lis­tened to Colton Cowan rush for four touchdowns. He listened to William Waugh rush for another, and he listened to Ryan Gallegos hit Tyler Radel with a scoring pass.

“We wanted to come out and play,” Kraft said, “play for Johnson. “Him being gone really matters and we really care about him.”

Being hospitalized hasn’t stopped the veteran coach from coaching altogether. He still found a moment to rev his team up. When Kraft and a few teammates paid Johnson a mid-week visit, they had a pep talk waiting for them.

“He just said that, and he got choked up when he was saying it, that it really matters to him that we keep winning,” Kraft relayed. “It really matters that, even though he’s not on the field, he’d do any­thing to be next to us. He got us choked up, and we were ready to play the game. We wanted to play the game.”

Johnson will remain in the hospital for an indefinite amount of time, according to friends and family members.

Until their coach is back on the sideline, the 3-1 Cardinals will continue to give it their all in his honor.

“We really need him out there,” Penner said. “If he can’t, we’ll do what we can for him. We definitely wish he was out there with us.”

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