The Highlander

Heart and Scholl

McLean alum John Scholla returns home to rebuild football program

Jackson Payne, Managing editor

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John Scholla is well aware that many of the 15 head football coaches that preceded him at McLean over the past 62 years did not enjoy great success. It’s what drives him to be different. It’s special to coach at your own school. He lived it as a player. The move to go young with a rookie head coach worked with one Highlander alumnus who took the program to historic places 27 years ago. Scholla is hoping to repeat history.


Since former Highlander quarterback John Scholla graduated from McLean in 2008, the varsity football team has gone a combined 36-57 with three different head coaches. Despite this slump, Scholla always held a flame for the idea of returning to coach at his former school.

“I feel like to come back and coach at your alma mater is the dream that most coaches have,” Scholla said. “Anyone that denies that is probably lying.”

This past spring, Scholla’s dream became a reality when he was named the new varsity football head coach at McLean, replacing Shaun Blair, who left after three seasons to take a position on Westfield’s defensive staff. Scholla, with just two years of coaching experience as a special teams coordinator at Madison, was not nearly as experienced as other candidates, but it became clear during his interview that the young up-and-comer was the right choice for McLean.

“The big thing with Coach Scholla was his energy,” Director of Student Activities Greg Miller said. “We felt that our program needed someone who would be all in and really commit to building this football program, and Scholla has given us that.”

Scholla inherits a program that has won just two games over the past two seasons, but after being a part of a Madison staff that went from 1-9 to 9-1 in just two years, he is ready to tackle the rebuilding effort at McLean.

“[Rebuilding the program] is a process, which I knew coming in, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Scholla said. “At Madison we were in a similar situation where the program wasn’t great, but we were able to instill those principles and work ethic that we expected out of our student athletes.”

Other McLean alumni on Scholla’s coaching staff include running backs coach Greg Love (Class of 2008) and freshman assistant Francisco Bermudez (Class of 2011). After just a short time learning under the new staff, members of the team are already noticing a significant culture change within the program.

“I can say without a doubt that there is not one selfish player on our team,” junior running back Logan Johnson said. “Coach Scholla pushes us to our maximum potential and helps us realize our roles as a team rather than a group of people. Everyone shares one common goal, which is to win. I don’t think I’ve ever been closer with a group of guys in my life.”

Scholla has adopted several program slogans to inspire the team through the rebuild, such as ‘trust the process’ and ‘make the dash count.’

“‘Make the dash count’ means that on your gravestone the dash between your birth and death dates is what tells your life story,” Scholla said. “I feel like if our kids can embody that motto and soak up everything they can out of every single day, they’re really going to like that end result of the process.”

The hiring of a young alum such as Scholla to rebuild the program has been done before at McLean, with former All-Met Highlander safety Karl Buckwalter (Class of 1981) taking the job in 1990 following a rough 1-19 stretch. Within two years, Buckwalter’s Highlanders became the first team in school history to win a playoff game, and in 1995 the team won their first region title and advanced to the state semi-final. Buckwalter left in 1999 as the winningest football coach in school history, and Scholla is confident that history can repeat itself.

“We just want to build for the future while being competitive this season,” Scholla said. “We know that we aren’t going to make it to where we want to be after year one so our goal is to set this program up for sustained success year after year, which is not an easy thing to do and will take time but I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”

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