New coach Dan Nelson ready to lead the Rams

Rams head coach Dan Nelson (right) and assistant Wayne Zilkofski
Bob Parana - Staff Writer

The Rams will open the 2021 basketball season Friday night at home against Elk County Catholic. It’ll mark the beginning of new head coach Dan Nelson’s varsity career. The team returned to practice Monday after being out since a state-mandated high school sports shutdown from Dec. 13 to Jan. 4 due to COVID-19. The Johnsonburg Area School District opted to continue remote learning until Jan. 11.

Nelson, a former Ram who graduated in 2004, is happy to be back and looks forward to the challenges that lie ahead. The coach described the mindset of the team when they returned.

“They were like they were before they left. They're not getting up or down too much as far I can see. They’re pretty much level all the time. As far as being in shape, they’re not there but that’s OK. We’re in better shape today than we were yesterday and will be more in shape tomorrow than we are today. We’re just looking forward to leading the team. We’ve had 10 practices so we’ve only had a small taste of what we’re looking for,” he said prior to Tuesday’s practice.

The Rams finished 16-9 last year and lost an opening District 9 Class A playoff game, 71-65, to AC-Valley. Nelson replaces Bill Shuey who collected over 200 wins in his 12 years at the helm. Four seniors Gabe Watts, Eric Christoff, Cam Stelene, and John Douglas will lead the team which also includes juniors Jefferson Freeburg and Ethan Wells; sophomores Aaron Myers, Jake Lobaugh and Jayce Lechien; and freshman Luke Zimmerman and Nick Myers.

Johnsonburg will be playing teams in the Intermediate Unit 9 (IU9) area which includes schools in Elk, McKean, Cameron, and Potter counties. Masks will be required during play.

“The kids don’t complain about it. I don’t think I would have been happy about strapping a mask on my face playing basketball in the early 2000s, but what I see from this team is if it’s the requirement to play they are going to do it,” said Nelson. “I don’t have to harp on it. To be honest it stinks but it’s what we need to do to play and we’re willing to do anything we need to do.”

Wayne Zilkofski will be Nelson’s JV coach. He will also be assisted by Cole Peterson. Hudson Rees, and Greg Dauber will work with the junior high program.

With COVID still having an impact, Nelson knows there is the possibility of futures shutdowns.

“It’s not something we talk about. The first thing we said is we’re back and we have practice seven to nine. Tomorrow we have practice seven to nine, and we go day by day. I haven’t given them a game schedule. I know they read it in the paper, so they have it, but I tell them we have a game Friday and that’s it,” the coach said. “We are trying not to have too broad a look on this. We try to just concentrate on what we need to do the next two hours.”

Nelson is determined to make the best of each moment on the court. “To look at these seniors and the rest of the kids and to have to tell them it’s over wouldn’t be something I want to do. It would be difficult and hopefully, I don’t have to do it. For the seniors, it’s their life so I take it seriously and so do my coaches. We are just looking to continue through the season but we realize reality. While everything is good, we’re going to give everything we have.”