Football coach LaRoi Johnson is returning to his roots.
The former Homewood resident was hired to coach at Imani Christian Academy, which is less than a mile from his old home. The private school in East Hills is a place Johnson already knows well, having coached there as Imani’s offensive coordinator in 2016-17.
“I grew up two minutes from the school,” Johnson said. “It’s a little sentimental to me. Wanting to do something in my community was a big part. I wanted to do something for the people I grew up around.”
He resigned last month at Sto-Rox after going 37-9 in four seasons. He led the Vikings to the WPIAL finals twice.
At Imani Christian, Johnson takes over a program that went 4-22 combined in the past three seasons. The Saints under coach Cliff Simon went 2-7 last fall. The team forfeited twice and had fewer than 20 players on the roster, yet Johnson said he sees reason for optimism.
“The program had a similar (roster size) when I was there before, and we were able to do well,” Johnson said. “I truly believe that they’re headed in a positive direction.”
In 2016, Imani Christian went 5-6 and reached the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals. A year later, the Saints went 11-3 and reached the WPIAL Class A finals. They lost to Jeannette, 35-34, in the championship.
“Imani is a place that I really hold dear to my heart,” Johnson said. “I understand the kind of kid that goes there.”
Last season, the Saints went 1-6 in the Class A Eastern Conference and tied for last place.
Next season, the Saints are jumping to Class 2A, boosted by a new co-op with Propel Braddock Hills, a charter school in the Woodland Hills district. The co-op lets Propel Braddock Hills students play football for Imani.
“I worked with a co-op when I was at University Prep with Sci-Tech and Obama,” said Johnson, a Peabody graduate who also coached in the City League. “It’s going to be unique, but I have an understanding of how those work.”
With Johnson as head coach, Sto-Rox had one of the WPIAL’s highest-scoring offenses over the past four seasons. The Vikings averaged 42.8 points last year — second-best in the WPIAL — and reached the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals with a 12-1 record.
One of Johnson’s first tasks as Imani coach will be to welcome back former player Kenny Robinson, a 2017 graduate who now plays in the NFL. Imani will retire Robinson’s jersey Feb. 1 at halftime of the boys basketball game.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .