FOXBOROUGH — Don Johnson and John Andreoli will be patrolling opposing sidelines for Friday night’s Division 3 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
But their journeys to be the head football coach at their respective alma maters have followed the same path.
Johnson starred at North Attleborough, Andreoli at St. John’s Shrewsbury. The two were teammates at Holy Cross, Johnson (Class of 1983) played defensive back and Andreoli (’82) was an all-New England defensive end/linebacker and the co-captain of the 1981 Crusaders.
As high school coaches, each has won at least 75 percent of their games. Both also spent four seasons coaching their sons.
Johnson said it’s not as difficult for the coach as one might expect.
“I think it’s a pleasure to coach your own son,” said Johnson, standing side-by-side with Andreoli at midfield of Gillette Stadium after Tuesday morning’s MIAA Football Champions breakfast.
“It’s much harder on the kid. They’re the ones that have to deal with any fallout . . . at least that’s what he’s told me.”
Johnson’s son, Dan, was a standout player at North Attleborough, helping the Big Red win Hockomock League titles in 2008 and 2011. He went on to play defensive back at Bowdoin in 2012.
The younger John Andreoli helped St. John’s win back-to-back D1 Western/Central Mass. championships under his father in 2005 and 2006. Andreoli graduated in 2008 and went on to play baseball at the University of Connecticut. He was drafted in the 17th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago Cubs and has been in their farm system for seven seasons.
“Four of the best years of my life were seeing my kid walking down to the practice field and getting to spend those afternoons down there,” said coach Andreoli. “At this level, when it’s going to sort itself out one way or another, at the end of the day you get to spend time with your son, and that’s a great thing
“Those memories stick with you forever.”
During their careers at Holy Cross, Johnson and Andreoli played for the late Rick Carter, a person both credit for their coaching successes later in life.
“We were both there when coach Carter came in and really turned the program around,” said Andreoli of Carter, who led the Crusaders from 1981-85 “Some of the things he brought in we still use in our program, and I’m sure Don does as well.”
“It was a great experience,” added Johnson. “Because of that, it kind of carried both of us into our careers as coaches, and I think we took a lot from that experience and put it into what we do now.”
Traditionally, Andreoli’s teams feature a powerful offense and highly athletic skill players. This year’s team is no different, averaging 46.1 points per game behind senior quarterback Steven Bucciaglia, who has scored multiple touchdowns in all 12 of the Pioneers’ win this season.
Johnson generally has built his North Attleborough teams around the strengths of his players. This season’s Big Red defense is loaded with athletic tacklers — a big reason they’ve allowed just 11.5 points a game in 2017.
The Holy Cross coaching tree spreads from the NFL to the MIAA. In his early coaching days at Holy Cross, Andreoli shared the sideline with three others who went on to coach at the professional level — Kevin Coyle, Mark Duffner, and Frank Novak.
MIAA coaches who graduated from Holy Cross include Bridgewater-Raynham’s Dan Buron (1984), Brockton’s Peter Colombo (’79), and Mansfield’s Mike Redding (’83).
After they square off Saturday, Andreoli and Johnson said they hope to meet up again with former teammates and coaching colleagues on the golf course, something they’ve tried to do many times before, but with little success.
“We try to get together and golf as much as we can,” Andreoli said. “Life gets busy, you have kids, and we’ve been catching up on where they all are, all growing up and doing big things.
“It’s great to see Don on the other sideline, and we’re looking forward to playing each other on Friday.”Henry Brechter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HBrechter.