STAFFORD, Va. – Jason John remembers his first trip down Interstate 95 to Colonial Forge High School in Virginia.
The Northwest High School graduate was leaving his cozy, close-knit community and entering a brand-new world.
A small-town young man entering the hustle, bustle and fast-paced environment of the big city.
Forget about a total change of scenery. This was a complete 180 in terms of lifestyle.
Northwest is one of the smallest schools in District 2. Colonial Forge is a school that houses close to 2,000 students and plays in Virginia’s biggest scholastic division.
But what did the boys basketball coach remember?
“Honestly, the hardest part was getting used to all the traffic,” he said. “It was literally a different world from Northwest to Colonial Forge. Down here, you are like an hour away from places like Washington D.C. and Richmond. It was a big change in my life. You are driving down the highway, and it was somewhat scary at first.”
A change that paid major dividends.
In only his third season as head coach of Colonial Forge, John led the school to its first boys basketball state championship. The team, which finished the season 27-1, defeated Landstown High School 58-54 in the Virginia Class 6A title tilt.
Not too shabby considering John won just five games in his first season as head coach.
“We really gave an opportunity to a lot of our younger kids that year,” he said. “And the following year, we won 15 of our 23 games. Coming into this season, I knew we were going to be competitive, and would be in the race for a league championship.
“I just didn’t know if we would be ready to take that next step forward and compete for a state title. We were starting four juniors, but they are athletic, competitive kids.”
It’s been quite a journey for John.
He started his career coaching at Berwick while a student at Bloomsburg University.
Two years later, the opportunity came to pack up and move to Virginia.
He spent the first two years at Colonial Forge, coaching freshman and junior varsity hoops. Then, after a six-year stint as assistant varsity coach at neighboring Mountain View High School, John was named the head coach at Colonial Forge.
“It was a huge transition,” he said. “But I was fortunate that I was able to work my way through the levels to adjust to the high level of competition. The athletes, themselves, you see a lot of dual-sport kids, but a lot of them specialize in their sport. I’ve seen a lot of talented kids that went on to play in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference). Even some of our kids are getting Division I looks in football. We have some real athletic kids in our area.”
Down at Colonial Forge, basketball is a year-round sport.
And thanks to a state rule change that happened three years ago, John is a year-round coach.
“It’s a huge advantage if you put in the time,” he said. “It’s good for coaches because you can be around the kids all year, and I think the kids love it for the most part. We have a lot of athletes that specialize in one sport. And with our football players, we have a great working relationship with our football coach.”
You don’t need to remind John of the challenge of defending a title.
“We are going to have huge blinking targets on our backs,” he said. “We are going to have high expectations, but you also have to understand that you are going to get everyone’s best shot. Everyone wants to beat the champ. We are going to take about one month off, and we’ll get back together for our spring workouts.”
And while John rekindled all the fond memories of his days at Northwest and Bloom U., the third-year coach is on the ride of his life.
“I’m very content here,” he said. “I’m at a good school with a nice teaching environment. The administration is very supportive, and the people in the community are great. We have excellent student support. Coaching basketball has been a major part of my life since my junior year at Bloomsburg. I’m just going to enjoy every day and see where it takes me.”