New Hampshire native Seth Johnson’s 13 years of coaching high school football will be applied to Poland’s program this fall, as the school’s athletic director, Don King, announced Thursday that Johnson has been hired to lead the Knights.

Gray-New Gloucester baseball coach Seth Johnson has been hired to coach Poland’s football team, replacing the late Gus LeBlanc. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

While the special education teacher has the experience to lead a football program, he said it’s his ability to form relationships with his players that makes him the coach he is.

“I’m a relationship-driven coach,” Johnson said. “So, I want to build relationships with the guys so that they feel comfortable talking to me and I can talk to them. We can talk directly about football, life and things beyond just the sport.”

“When you go into the grocery store, and the guys are working there when they’re 20, 21, 22, and they come up to you and give you a hug and say, ‘Hey, Coach, how are things going? What are you doing now?’ It’s those things. It’s just the seeing the men they become after you’ve coached them, and you see them still holding up the core values that you put in the system.”

Johnson has taught special education at Gray-New Gloucester High School for the past seven years, and an additional 13 years prior at Lake Region. He holds a master’s degree in educational psychology, and said he applies principles from his collegiate academia to his coaching philosophy.

“My focus is, a big part, a mental game,” Johnson said. “So that relational piece, I feel like I motivate guys, and I drive guys. I don’t feel like I am soft on them or anything like that, but I feel like players have an easier time talking to me than they do to some coaches.”


Johnson was a football player himself. He played at Laconia High School in Laconia, New Hampshire, then planned to play at Fitchburg State College, but had to change course after his financial aid fell through. His high school coach, Jim Fitzgerald, heard about that, and encouraged Johnson to come back to Laconia and help coach.

“He got me coaching, and I fell in love with it. It was just something I wanted to do,” Johnson said. “Then, I had to find a position and be able to be financially stable enough to coach, because it’s not something that pays.”

After his four years as a volunteer assistant at Laconia, Johnson spent three years at Lake Region, two years at Gray-New Gloucester (a new eight-man program at the time), two years at Massabesic and the past two years at Sacopee Valley, which is also an eight-man program.

Of his four years coaching eight-man football, Johnson said he “liked having to think outside the box, schematically” and thinks it challenged him and ultimately made him a better coach.

Poland’s head coaching position opened up when previous Knights coach Gus LeBlanc died in February, at 71 years old. King, Poland’s athletic director, called LeBlanc a “great leader” who “did a lot for not just our football team, as a football team, but also our school and several of the kids individually.”

King said that Johnson does not need to worry about be the next LeBlanc, and added that he’s excited to watch Johnson flourish in his own ways and styles.


“Seth doesn’t have to measure up to Gus LeBlanc,” King said. “I think he’s pretty excited to run a veer offense, but also share a little bit of a balance between running backs, which is exciting.”

But most important, King said, is how much Johnson cares for the players already, and the ways in which his style will make each a better athlete and person.

“Seth is a charismatic individual that came in with a lot of enthusiasm for our program,” King said. “He’s been around the Western Maine Conference, so I’ve had a good chance to interact with him a little bit. I think it was nice that I felt like he knew our program, and he knew a little bit about us. I think he’s got a good response, talking about relationships first with kids. It just felt right.”

Johnson is currently in his second season as head coach of the baseball team at Gray-New Gloucester, another Western Maine Conference school.

Last fall, he led Sacopee Valley to a 5-4 record, including an Eight-man Small School South quarterfinal victory over Boothbay.

Johnson applied to the Poland position after resigning from Sacopee Valley. He said he’s applied to the Poland football coach position every single time he’s seen an opening.


“It’s a football school. They have a football mentality there,” Johnson said. “The program there, they love it, and to be a part of that and have that participation and that excitement behind the program, to be a coach in that environment, it’s awesome.”

Last season, Poland went 4-4 in the regular season and reached the Class D South quarterfinals.

Looking at this year’s schedule, Johnson said he expects Oak Hill and Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale/Kents Hill to be the biggest challenges and Freeport, who Poland faces in the regular-season finale, to be the biggest rival. The Knights also play Cape Elizabeth this season, which Johnson expects will be a great game and a heavy rivalry.

“Hopefully we’re both in a good spot fighting for playoff implications and that (Freeport) will be just a great game to end the season,” Johnson said.

King is excited to kick off the season with Johnson holding the reins, because of the excitement that always surrounds a new coach stepping in.

“We’ve done a great job of historically being undersized, but also playing until the last horn on the clock,” King said. “That’s what I want to see, is us to continue to work as a unit, and also be able to let people know that they’ve got to prepare for a game, and I think that our kids do that very well.”

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