For 15 years, Mike Johnson has worked toward becoming a high school football coach. After serving as an assistant at a half-dozen area schools, including Howard and Bowie State colleges, Johnson finally got his chance this year. It wasn't what he had envisioned.

For openers, Johnson applied for and was named the coach at Spingarn High School in the spring. But incumbent Coach George Spicer filed and won a grievance against the school and Johnson was dismissed.

"I was set to begin work and they told me I was out," said Johnson, a D.C. native with a degree in physical education from Fayetteville State. "I was a little upset about it and took off for North Carolina to get my thoughts together. In the time I was gone (four days), I received six assistant job offers. That made me feel good."

Johnson didn't know how to feel when Spingarn Principal Clemmie Strayhorn informed him upon his return that the job was again his because Spicer decided to resign.

"The kids were confused and my original staff had taken other jobs," Johnson said. "And there wasn't any equipment, no water coolers, nothing. I didn't find one football. I was running around asking where was everything. I couldn't believe it.

"For the first two weeks, I was the only coach out there. I did everything by myself -- taped ankles, handed out equipment, worked on drills and plays. I was running around like a crazy man."

Frank Parks, the school's athletic director, said he is presently trying to get the needed equipment for Johnson.

"Our program isn't that bad. Things do get away and it is hard to replenish or maintain equipment on a little bit of money," Parks said. "I just ordered 15 complete sets of pads for him. Everyone has to hustle to get the things he wants. I have been trying to do that. Now he needs the kids."

Players have been slow to come out. Johnson said he has dressed only 22 players and has been forced to cancel his first nonleague games, against Cardozo and Theodore Roosevelt. To make matters worse, Johnson teaches a few miles away at Fort Lincoln middle school.

"I can't be much help to the kids when I'm working somewhere else," Johnson said. "By the time I get here, we have lost valuable time. I've gotten some help, but we have a long way to go."

Like Johnson, the players have not been thrilled with the way the season has begun.

"They (Spingarn and the system) had all summer to resolve this problem about the coach," said Kenny Allen, a senior linebacker/running back. "It's total negligence on someone's part and we have to suffer for it. I'm very bitter about it. After last year (Spingarn was 0-9 and one of the worst defensive teams in the area) the seniors wanted to have a good year."

Three-year quarterback Dirk Logan said it was extremely difficult to prepare for the season with no adult leadership. "We're so far behind the other teams. We're just starting to hit and other teams have played games," he said. "It's going to be a struggle for us."

Johnson hasn't even thought about putting in an offense and defense yet. Half of his potential players turned out to be academically ineligible and a handful of others either haven't had physical exams or have quit.

"I got two new players today and two others quit on me," Johnson said. "A lot of 10th graders have expressed interest and I'll just have to lose with them. At least with school open now, I can get a few more kids."

Allen and the other seniors have been trying to talk fellow students into joining the team. "We need some more bodies out here," Allen said. "We can make this thing work if we stick together."

"We just want to make our senior year a respectable one," said Harold Harris, a cornerback/running back. "The late start and the other circumstances have hurt us and it's been frustrating for everyone. The way things were done doesn't appear to have been in our best interests. But I just want to play. We'll keep believing in ourselves and working hard. Maybe we could even win a couple of games. Two wins would be very satisfying considering what has happened."

Johnson hasn't written off this year. In fact, he feels he can turn the Green Wave around and make them competitive.

"I don't want to just win some games; I want to build a program here," he said. "I want a year-round conditioning/weight-training program, a parent/student booster club, a band and a JV. I want to start a tutorial program for the athletes. I want this program to do a 360. I worked with some good people in the past and saw the way they did things. I want my program to be as successful."

But right now, Johnson, his couple of assistants and handful of determined players are trying their best just to survive.

"Three years from now when I look back on this," Johnson said, "I can say, 'Whew!' "