One might assume that a high school defensive back would be intimidated playing for a coach who was highly decorated at that position in college.
Not so with Stonewall Jackson senior free safety Josh Baird, who welcomes the scrutiny of Coach Loren Johnson, a former all-Big East selection at Virginia Tech.
"It makes it real fun," said Baird, who gets a kick out of watching Johnson's highlight tape, which includes him intercepting a Donovan McNabb pass. "He teaches us a lot. It makes you more confident, too, knowing that if you're doing what he says, you're doing it right. . . . It's more giving us confidence than putting pressure on us."
Baird, who played cornerback as a sophomore and strong safety last year, this season will be the quarterback of the defense at free safety. The team gave up 250 points last season; no other Cedar Run District team gave up more than 196.
"That's the talk, that we don't know how our defense is," Baird said. "But in practice, we've been 'D-ing' up the offense. And we know the offense is good. So if we can hold down our offense in practice, we know we're going to be all right."
Baird, who plays drums at Washington Christian Life Centre in Manassas, where his father, David, is pastor, factored prominently into both Stonewall wins last season. He returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 42-34 victory over Forest Park to break the Raiders' 12-game losing streak and hand Johnson his first triumph as a head coach.
In a 28-21 win over Osbourn, Baird recovered a fumble to set up the decisive touchdown. Later in the season, he returned a blocked field goal 68 yards for a score in a close loss to Osbourn.
The 5-foot-10, 177-pound Baird is the second-fastest player on the team, behind only senior running back Chris Garrett. Baird shaved his 40-yard dash time to 4.4 from 4.6 thanks in great part to squat lifts that have spurred more explosive starts.
That extra burst should come in handy as the last line of defense for the Raiders.
"He started at corner before I got here," Johnson said. "The reason I put him at strong safety is I want him closer to ball. Now I want him at free safety because he's our field general. . . . He realizes now he'll make a lot of big plays."