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Football Player of the Week: Gainesville's A.J. Johnson

Now doubles as a running back for Big Red

POSTED: September 6, 2010 9:35 p.m.

Many players in A.J. Johnson’s situation would already have one foot out the door. He’s got a bright future set as a college football linebacker — with the University of Florida and Tennessee as his two clear favorites — and the vast majority of his Gainesville High teammates that he played with for a state title in 2009 already graduated from the program.

But then again, Johnson, a senior, has never been one to do things halfway. Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller just chalks that up to the competitive nature that made Johnson a starter early in his freshman season and a staple in the lineup ever since.

“A.J. has never been about A.J.,” Miller said. “He loves to play the game, he’s highly competitive and it’s just his nature to go 100 percent.”

Last Friday, Johnson showed his diversity on the field and explosiveness when he took on the role of running back and rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on nine carries out of the wildcat formation. In addition to that, he had 15 tackles on defense and recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown against White County. For his efforts, Johnson is The Times Football Player of the Week.

Johnson went to Miller recently about getting involved on offense. Miller didn’t push back too much about the idea, thinking that Johnson, his leader middle linebacker, could be pretty tough to tackle. It was successful right away and helped Gainesville secure a 31-22 win over the Warriors.

“When I first asked coach Miller about playing on offense, he said ‘sure,’” Johnson said.

Johnson is clearly focused on the success of Gainesville’s football team this season. He added he’s willing to play any position on the field if it will help the team win.

“The game is never about him, and in today’s society that probably makes him unique,” Miller said. “He’d probably be able to play all 48 minutes in a game and maybe would just be a little bit tired.”

Johnson says he was ready to take the wraps off his career as a running back in Week 1 against Buford, but Miller opted to keep it in the bag for the element of surprise. Once Johnson got in the backfield against the Warriors, he was able to run inside with his 6-foot-3, 230 pound frame, but also able to kick it outside with his speed to the perimeter.

Miller still remembers the first time Johnson carried the football in practice. All he could see was a pack of defenders moving backward.

“We had half the scout team trying to tackle him and the other half trying to get out of the way,” Miller said.

Even though Johnson, rated the eighth best linebacker prospect in the country according to Rivals.com, has found success running the football, he knows it is just a one-year experiment. Once he moves on to the college game, Johnson is going to make his living going after the ball carrier.

“I know I have to be a vocal leader on our football team,” Johnson said. “Coach can put me anywhere on the field and I believe I can be successful.”

Once football season is complete, Miller says Johnson will apply the same work ethic into playing basketball, and then compete at the same level during track and field season in the spring.

“You talk to any coach he plays for at Gainesville, and they’ll tell you that A.J. gives it all he’s got,” Miller said.



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