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Former Harrison Central Coach Justin Kropka Named John Marshall Football Coach

MOUNDSVILLE — Longtime Harrison Central football coach Justin Kropka needed time to refresh and rejuvenate following his 13 seasons at the helm of Harrison Central.

Now, after three seasons as an assistant coach at Wheeling University, Kropka is re-energized and ready to take the sidelines again as a head coach.

During Tuesday’s Marshall County School Board meeting, Kropka was announced as the new head football coach at John Marshall.

Kropka takes over for Jason Willis, who resigned from the JM head coaching position following the 2020 season.

“I’ve been out for three years as far as being a head coach goes,” Kropka said. “I really enjoyed my time as an assistant at Wheeling U. but I felt like it was time. My son is in sixth grade and it just felt like it was time for me to get back in. At the bare bones of it, I’m a high school football coach.”

Kropka also felt that not only was it the right time, it was simply the right place.

“It had to be the right opportunity to jump in,” Kropka said. “A lot of people at John Marshall really sold it. (Baseball coach) Mark Cisar, Jason Marling and athletic director Roger Simmons. A lot of those guys really sold it and they came after me hard.

“It’s like what I used to tell kids when they were getting recruited, ‘go where you’re wanted.’ And I felt that greatly with the people at John Marshall.”

The Huskies had only won nine of their first 60 games in school history when Kropka took over the reins. He then guided them to three playoff berths and a career record of 73-57.

“I got my batteries charged a little bit at Wheeling U.,” Kropka said.

“We did so much building at Harrison. Taking that program — the record and facilities were just bare bones — to what it is today, that took about everything I had to give. I needed a little bit of recharging and my time at Wheeling U. did that.”

In his time at Harrison Central, Kropka was named the Division III Eastern District and OVAC Class AAA Coach of the Year in 2009 and was the head coach in the Ohio North-South All-Star Game in 2013.

Despite the success, Kropka has learned over the years that it’s more about developing kids than the awards.

“A lot of times people get wrapped up in wins and losses,” Kropka said. “I’m as guilty of that as anybody. But, the older I got and the more experience I got in coaching, it was more important to me that we were getting better, the program was healthy and we were doing things the right way. When we focus on that stuff, wins and losses usually take care of themselves. It’s almost a result of that.

“So, if we can build the staff I want to build here, I’d like to delegate a little bit more. I think that’s one reason I was so exhausted after those 13 years at Harrison Central — because we had to do a lot early on. Hopefully I can get a staff to the point where I can delegate some of those duties and make football a little more enjoyable.”

Kropka spent his last three years as the safeties coach at Wheeling University and helped head coach Zac Bruney build the Cardinals’ program.

“It was nice because I had experience kind of building a program from scratch, so I feel like I was a nice guy for Coach Bruney to have around because you go through those trials and tribulations,” Kropka said. “I also expanded my football knowledge greatly. Coach (Mott) Gaymon, who I worked directly under, the defensive coordinator there, really took a lot of time out that he didn’t have to, frankly, to really educate me on the college game and all the schemes and how they streamline practice. I learned a great deal from Coach Bruney and Coach Gaymon about different ways to run a program and different ways to do things. It was like going to football school for three years. That’s the best way I can put it.”

Not only did he pick up a thing or two from the coaching staff but the players at Wheeling University reminded him of just how much he loved coaching.

“I enjoy the kids,” Kropka said. “I was fortunate my safeties at Wheeling U. were not only great football players but great kids. It was enjoyable to be around them everyday. That kind of recharged me a little bit and lit the flame back. They rekindled that for me and I’ll never forget those guys — my safeties at Wheeling U.”

Kropka hasn’t announced his coaching staff yet but he will continue to bring his style of football to the John Marshall program.

“I have a couple of guys in line and I’ll try to hire as many guys who want to stay around that want to,” Kropka said. “There are going to be bumps early on in trying to get kids and coaches used to the program and the way we do things. I’m not saying my way is perfect but it’s the way I know how to win and it’s the way that’s been successful for me, so that’s going to be a transition period.”

Kropka’s support system starts at home with his wife Trina, daughter Campbell and son Colby, along with his mother Laura Dorsey and his father Terry Kropka.

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