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Artesia assistant Johnston takes over Manzano High football

Stephen Johnston cut his coaching teeth under Cooper Henderson. Now he’s going to branch out on his own at Manzano.

The Monarchs on Thursday hired Johnston, Artesia’s defensive coordinator, to be their head football coach.

The 34-year-old Johnston, a 2005 Artesia graduate, replaces Phillip Martinez, who recently resigned to become Rio Rancho High’s defensive coordinator.

“Leaving southeastern New Mexico to go up north is not typically what happens,” Johnston said.

Stephen Johnston

But Manzano’s track record, he said, was an immense draw as he leaves his hometown for Albuquerque.

“If you want to be a head coach, you have to be willing to leap,” Johnston said. “I created a short list in my mind of places I would leave Artesia for, and Manzano was part of that list. … Being a head football coach wasn’t a part of the initial plan for my life. I was really happy being a defensive coordinator, and coaching track, and I felt like life was going really well.”

Johnston and current Bulldogs head coach Jeremy Maupin, who a few weeks ago left Los Lunas to return home himself, are close friends and former high school teammates.

“I don’t know if it was the allure just to be a head coach,” Johnston said. “Manzano just seems like a very special place to be. It’s … great for people who are excited about football and excited about kids.”

Johnston was Artesia’s DC under Rex Henderson. Johnston coached defensive backs when Cooper Henderson was the head coach.

Johnston, who was born and raised in Artesia, went to college at New Mexico State. It was on a visit home to see his parents that he got his first coaching break.

“I saw coach Henderson at church, and he said, ‘Whenever you’re ready to coach, to teach, you’re gonna come back to Artesia,'” Johnston said. He added with a laugh, “It was coach Henderson! So I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ “

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