Warriors’ Johnson eager to shoulder heavy load

STEPHENS CITY — LeeQuan Johnson Jr., knew the score.

Johnson, a rising senior tailback at Sherando High School, was all too aware that he would be the lone returnee of what was a potent three-pronged rushing attack the Warriors featured last year. As such, Johnson expected that he would be compelled to do more this season.

Ask more? Be more.

That’s basically the way Johnson approached this coming season during the summer, as he attacked his conditioning with fearsome rounds of cross-fit training, sharpened his technique and skills at what seemed like countless summer college camps, and maintained a monk-like adherence to a nutrition plan formulated by his uncle, former NFL tight end Darcy Johnson.

The results have been transformational. After playing last year as a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, Johnson is up to 205 pounds now (and added an inch in height) and thinks the added muscle mass will help to shoulder a heavier workload.

“I’ve just got to be the workhorse of the team,” Johnson said. “I think that I will have to do more, but that’s why I do what I do. I train, I work hard to be able to take the responsibility to do what I have to do. But I also think we have good receivers and a quarterback that can throw the ball.”

Last season, Johnson emerged as a force in Sherando’s backfield as he piled up a team-high 1,159 yards and 15 touchdowns to help the Warriors reach the Group 4A state championship game. Johnson was no one-man band, though — fullback George Aston chipped in 898 yards and 24 TDs, and quarterback Reid Entsminger added 873 more rushing yards and seven TDs. Both are gone now, leaving Johnson with much of the returning experience as a ball carrier.

He won’t have to do it all by himself, for certain — teammate Josh Ojo will likely see time in the backfield as a jack-of-all-trades quarterback/wide receiver, and rising sophomore Cordell Peterson has looked like a real keeper in preseason practice and should also see time at tailback. Numerous Warriors are in line to see action at fullback, and Sherando isn’t shy about handing the ball off to its big backs.

Still, the expectation is that Johnson will get all the work he can handle.

“I anticipate that he’ll carry it more, but he has to handle it and prove it,” Sherando coach Bill Hall said. “That’s daily and weekly, and I expect that he will.”

Johnson did a whirlwind tour of football camps over the summer, ticking off one-day visits to Purdue (the alma mater of his father LeeQuan Johnson Sr., a running back/linebacker for the Boilermakers), Central Florida (where his uncle Darcy Johnson played college ball), Virginia and James Madison.

“All this summer it was just camp, camp, camp,” Johnson said. “It was a good experience because I had never known what it was about. I had always looked it up on the websites and watched videos and stuff, but I actually got to see it for myself. Eventually I found out that you go there, and they teach you stuff to do at home to get you better.”

And Johnson did get better. He got bigger, sure, but he also got faster. His goal was to get his 40-yard dash time down to the low 4.5-second range, and at the Purdue camp he was clocked at 4.52.

Bigger and faster is a recipe for success in football, and Hall has noticed the positive changes.

“He’s moving well with that weight,” Hall said. “I think he had a good role model in George [Aston], in terms of the physicality that you need to bring to that position at certain times. LJ’s always had the speed, always been able to get on the outside, so he’s got the speed and he’s got the moves. But I think he was reluctant initially to stick it up in there and George was a good mentor for that. He’s doing a better job of that now.”

LeeQuan Johnson Jr. credits his father and Sherando assistant coach John Minteer as the biggest influences in his football progression.

“My dad’s the best role model of my life, along with coach Minteer,” Johnson said. “It’s been a good run and I’m just ready for this season to get started now.”

Johnson won’t be playing much, if any, defense for the Warriors this season. He could see action as a kick returner, provided he wins a job there. For the most part, though, the plan is to keep him fresh for the long season ahead.