Westbrook High grad takes over as the school’s new football coach

Blue Blazes Coach Sam Johnson, 28, is a 2012 Westbrook graduate who had been an assistant coach with the football program since 2015. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When new Westbrook High football coach Sam Johnson told his players they were going to spend summer practice time cleaning school grounds and community areas, he knew some players thought it was a foolish waste of time.

“You could tell some of them were thinking, ‘We’re burning a practice day to pick up trash?'” said Johnson, 28, a 2012 Westbrook graduate who was hired in May after seven seasons as a Blue Blazes assistant coach.

“We say things like we want them to be student-athletes, to be disciplined in the community. But we can’t just talk about it,” said Johnson. “We want our kids to have great effort, discipline and have each others’ backs. And if they’re doing that in the community then they’ll do it on the field.”

Senior wide receiver/defensive back Steven White admits he was “a little disappointed” when he first found out the team was going on a garbage detail.

“Because I was ready to practice football but then you think about it, and going out in the community is a good look for the team and I actually enjoyed it because it was team bonding and bringing the team closer,” White said.

“Absolutely there’s value in doing that,” said Daniel Fernald, a two-way senior lineman. “You don’t want to be just a guy who plays football. You want to be that guy who plays football, who cleans up the community and is good to everybody.”

Johnson is one of two first-time head football coaches in Cumberland and York counties this season. Caleb King’s first coaching job will be leading Greely’s new eight-man program. Lewiston’s Jason Versey is another first-time head coach. Johnson, King and Versey each played football at the high school they are now coaching.

Johnson replaces Brandon Dorsett, who was Westbrook’s coach from 2019-21. Dorsett was hired to take the vacant head coaching position at Brunswick in March.

Last season Westbrook went 3-5 in the regular season (3-6 overall) in its first season in Class C South. Westbrook won his first two games last fall to snap a 15-game losing streak, a stretch where he was beaten by an average of 36.4 points.

Johnson was Westbrook’s defensive play-caller and special teams coordinator in 2021. He said he learned a lot from Dorsett, a former NCAA Division I player at Colorado State who had spent time as a coach at IMG Academy in Florida.

Of his own high school playing days, Johnson said, “I was a below-average receiver in a run-heavy offense.” He was also a team captain as a senior.

“He was passionate about the game and a great teammate and someone, it was my impression, that people liked being around,” said Jeff Guerette, Westbrook’s football coach from 2008-2018 and now a co-principal at Westbrook High.

Johnson has been Westbrook’s varsity boys’ tennis coach since 2016. He teaches middle school social studies and language arts in the alternative education program.

“He develops strong relationships with kids and families,” Guerette said. “I think he sees the big picture about what it takes to build a successful program and he’s willing to do all the hard work to make that happen. I’m really excited that he has the opportunity to do that.”

Building a stronger connection between the high school football team and Westbrook’s youth programs will be a major long-term focus, Johnson said.

Johnson has already made a positive impression with his players.

“Last summer we didn’t have half the numbers out for preseason practices that we had this summer,” White said. “And some players who you wouldn’t normally see, he’s been able to get them there almost every single day. It’s a great sign.”

“This year the program feels more like a family rather than just people together. The closer we get, it will be a stronger football team,” Fernald said.

Westbrook opens the regular season at home versus Wells and is at Cheverus in Week 2. Home games with York and Class B Gorham are followed by road games at defending Class C champion Cape Elizabeth and Nokomis of Newport, a home game with Fryeburg Academy and a season-ending trip to Class B Biddeford.

“We’ve got our hands full,” said Johnson, who expects about 45 players to be ready to go for Monday’s first official practice.

“With 45 we should be able to have two true teams and be able to play a (full) JV schedule,” Johnson said. “That would be a huge win for our football program.”

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