Football has family ties

Claudia Loucks
Larry Johnsen Jr (left), Taylor Wise, and Larry Johnsen Sr. were all involved in Geneseo’s state run this season.

Football isn’t just a tradition in Geneseo, but also in the Larry Johnsen family.

Geneseo assistant coach Larry Johnsen Sr., head varsity coach Larry Johnsen Jr., along with granddaughter and niece, student trainer Taylor Wise, worked together in leading the Green Machine to the state championship game in November.

 Larry Johnsen Sr. summed it up with his statement, “This season was exciting and an awesome experience because of playing in the state championship game.  The whole setting was an experience of a lifetime.  The journey was unbelievable because of the bond between the players, the emotion, the support, and the involvement of the families, school population and community.”

 Father and son working together as coaches is a unique situation, but one that both Johnsen men seem to enjoy.

“Just like any child, your parents are a big influence on you, whether good or bad,” Larry Johnsen Jr. said.  “I’m fortunate to have had two parents that had a positive influence on me growing up.  I’ve tried to take the lessons that I’ve learned from them and pass them on to my students and players.”

He added, “I’ve really enjoyed having my father help coach.  I’m not sure if it could work for everyone, but it has for us.  Obviously, with his experience, he’s very valuable to the program.  However, the most important thing for me is being able to have that father-son time.”

Coach Johnsen said football has been in his family since he was born, and added that he was never pressured to play the sport.  “But it was just something I enjoyed being around.”

Larry Johnsen Sr. is a former teacher and coach at Geneseo High School and at Augustana College and had the opportunity to coach his son at GHS.

Football and the senior Johnsen became well acquainted before his years of coaching.

He began playing the sport in his freshman year at Riverdale High School in Port Byron.

“My last game at Riverdale was against Geneseo, coached by Bob Reade in 1962,” he said.

He then played four years at Northeast Missouri State, now known as Truman State, in Kirksville, Mo., as a defensive end and stayed a fifth year as a graduate assistant coach under Marv Braden, who later served several years in the NFL as a special teams coach.

“I was drawn to coaching because of having had a great experience in high school with coaches such as Bob Brooks, Hugh Fuqua, and Don Davis and college coaches ‘Red’ Wade and Bill Richardson.  The bonding brotherhood with teammates during a season and off-season combined with the feeling of competition also had a great influence on my career choice,” he said.

Larry Johnsen Sr. and his wife Bonnie settled in Geneseo when Johnsen was hired for his first teaching experience.

Their original plans were to stay in this area for three years and then Johnsen would look for a teaching and coaching position in the St. Louis area. 

“However, after three years we knew Geneseo was where we wanted to stay to raise our family,” he said.

His first tenure in Geneseo included two years at the junior high level, two years as a sophomore coach, seven years as a varsity assistant and eight years as head coach.  During his 20 years at Augustana, Johnsen coached linebackers, defensive ends and offensive line at different times until his retirement in the spring of 2007.

“I have been blessed during my 40 plus years of teaching and coaching to work with great coaches, players, and support personnel who were also great people to be around.  All shared a common goal - to be successful through teamwork, hard work, discipline, and treating all people with respect.   I still really enjoy the competition and being part of a unique group of people.  Many of the present coaches were either players or coaches at Geneseo during my first stay.  New coaches have become part of the present staff and have contributed not only to its growth, but also to the school district in the classroom and as role models.”

“Working with my son has offered an opportunity for unique experiences.  But, the personalities of a son and father must allow that experience to be a positive one.  We care for each player, have great love and respect for the sport, enjoy the competition, have similar interests and common thoughts, but also appreciate each other’s differences.  Coaching together has brought a great deal of satisfaction and pride.”

Johnsen also takes pride as a grandparent, watching his granddaughter, Taylor Wise, a sophomore at GHS, help on the field as a student trainer. 

“It has been a great experience as a grandparent to see a third generation, Taylor, on the practice field during the week and the game field on Friday nights as a student trainer.   Taylor takes her tasks seriously and seems to enjoy her role.  It has been enjoyable seeing our whole family share in the excitement of Geneseo football,” he said.

Taylor is the daughter of Tom and Tracey Wise, Geneseo.  In addition to serving as a student trainer during the football season, she is  also a member of the girls’ basketball and softball teams.

Johnsen, the son and uncle, played football from the time he was in fifth grade in Geneseo until he graduated from Augustana College and said, “I had an incredible experience and was very fortunate to be around some great role models.”

He graduated from Augustana College and earned a master’s degree in kinesiology from Western Illinois University, Macomb.

His first full time teaching job was at Spoon River Valley High School which he said is about the size of Annawan High School.  He was the head football coach and junior high track coach.

After two years at Spoon River, coach Johnsen went to Pittsfield High School where he also served as head football coach.

In the fall of 1998, he had the opportunity to return to his alma mater to teach and coach.

When asked if it had been a goal of his to coach the Green Machine, Johnsen said, “It was a goal of mine, but I wasn’t in a hurry.  I think the best thing for me in regard to football, was becoming an assistant coach.  It gave me an opportunity to learn from (former head coach) Denny Diericx as well as other assistant coaches in Geneseo.”

Coach Johnsen said he continues to learn as a coach.  “There were lots of things I learned this year on our way to the state championship.  One of those is just how hard it is to get there.  There are a lot of things that have to go your way to make it that far.  The most talented teams don’t always get there.  Teams have to have a lot of the intangibles such as team chemistry, stay healthy and even luck to make it to Champaign.  Since the game, I’ve had the time to look back and really appreciate it.  I’m very lucky to be in the situation and community that I’m in.”

He and his wife Sarah have two children, Lauren, 5, and Luke, 4.