Former NFL linebacker and five-time Super Bowl champion Pepper Johnson has been named the new football head coach for defending MaxPreps National Champion IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.). He served because the defensive coordinator for the program last year, helping the Ascenders go 8-0 on the way to the national No. 1 ranking.
Johnson is that the fourth head coach in IMG Academy history after replacing Bobby Acosta, who took the top coaching position at Del Valle (Texas).
Expectations will remain high under Johnson at IMG Academy. Despite not having a head coach at publication time, the Ascenders were ranked No. 2 within the Preseason MaxPreps Top 25 released earlier in the week.
Johnson played within the NFL for 13 years. He spent the primary seven years of his career with the NY Giants followed by stints with the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and NY Jets. He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection (1990, 1994) and won two Super Bowls as a player.
We are very happy to announce that heading into our 2021 football season current interim coach Thomas “Pepper” Johnson will permanently fill the Head Coach position for our National Team.
Pepper played 13 seasons in the NFL, including seven years with the New York Giants! pic.twitter.com/LgSMzcM9qs
— IMG Academy Football (@IMGAFootball) June 23, 2021
After his playing days, Johnson coached within the NFL from 2000 to 2016. He was a part of three Super Bowl-winning teams with the New England Patriots (2000-13) before moving on to the Buffalo Bills (2014) and NY Jets (2015-16). He also was the defensive position coach for the Memphis Express in 2019 and had a quick stint because of the defensive coordinator for the l. a. Wildcats of the XFL.
He takes over for a team that has its sights assail repeating as national champs. The Ascenders have 19 players rated as a four-star recruit or higher by 247Sports and have quite 30 players who have landed a minimum of one FBS offer.
Tyler Booker, Daylen Everette, Keon Sabb, and Kamari Wilson are all rated within the top 50 on 247Sports for the category of 2022.
Joenel Aguero, Malik Bryant, Francis Mauigoa, Samuel M’Pemba, Malik Muhammad, and Carnell Tate all sign up as top 50 players overall within the Class of 2023.
Former Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley, Calif.) standout A.J. Duffy takes over under center. The 2022 Florida State commit is that the No. 7-rated quarterback, consistent with 247Sports composite rankings. During his first two years playing in Southern California, he threw for over 5,500 yards and 66 touchdowns.
The Ascenders haven’t released their full schedule but have notable games lined up against La Salle (Cincinnati) on Sept. 3, Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) on Oct. 8, and against No. 10 St. Frances Academy (Baltimore) on Nov. 19.