By Nathan Berg
Johnson coach Jason Roquemore said he feels as optimistic as he ever, despite coming off back-to-back winless seasons.
In addition to returning nine starters on offense and 10 on defense, Roquemore said his players have never given up on the program, despite the recent hardships the team has been through. That perseverance led the Knights to an encouraging offseason, according to Roquemore.
“I thought the weightroom was good to us this winter,” he said. “I thought our summer stuff was good, the two camps that we went to. I thought we did a good job of addressing the things that we needed to address in order to get better.”
Roquemore’s optimism was justified in part by the team’s spring victory over Lumpkin County. Johnson is also now deep enough for one-way starters along the offensive and defensive lines.
He added that an increased emphasis on situational execution will help the Knights cut back on costly errors. Roquemore said he’s been spending every Wednesday this summer running his team through various challenging situations to see how they react.
“It’s been some of those situations where it’s critical downs, situational play, the kicking game, that we just haven’t done a real good job, and those come back and they bite us,” Roquemore said. “Defensively they (mistakes) put us in some bad spots. Offensively they (mistakes) put us in some bad spots. So we’ve got to eliminate that and be better.”
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Johnson’s spread-option offense will once again be run by Sam Corbett, a senior quarterback who has started since he was a freshman. Roquemore said he’s excited about the experience Corbett brings to the team and is expecting a big year from his senior leader on offense.
Offensive line play is a bit more of a question mark. Roquemore said improving the consistency of his offensive line has been a particular point of focus this offseason.
“If you look at where we struggled in years past, it’s been up front,” he said.
Roquemore said he’s seen multiple offensive linemen “come full circle” since last year; however, adding that he’s hoping for a particularly big year from guard Platinum Thompson. With no members of the offensive line having to play both ways this season, Roquemore said he’s expecting a major boost to the team’s blocking.
In terms of skill position players, Roquemore said he’s excited about Garry Daies and Nolan Bullock coming out of the Knights’ backfield. Both athletes will be instrumental in the run game, but Roquemore also said they will also be integral parts of the Johnson passing attack.
In year’s past, Roquemore’s defense has played out of a 3-4 base, but he said the Knights will be playing in sub packages more often in an effort to improve Johnson’s pass rush as well as get team’s most talented personnel on the field, as much as possible.
“Hopefully, defensively we can be a little more aggressive, force the issue, get into some down and distances where the advantage is more to our side,” he said.
Roquemore anticipates run-stopping defensive tackles Dimetrio Landaverde and Vashon Johnson to have breakout years for the Knights after both players made significant improvements to their games in the offseason.
In a similar vein to his offensive philosophy, Roquemore said line play will be the cornerstone to success on defense.
“You’ve got to have a presence in the trenches,” he said.
With the interior linemen leading the way, Roquemore said he plans to rely on an athletic but undersized linebacking corps to clean up any plays that make it into the second level of the defense.
In the kicking game, Johnson will turn to jack-of-all-trades kicker Jackson Barkley for both placekicking and punting duties. Barkley, a senior, has attended multiple kicking camps in the offseason, according to Roquemore, and has been kicking the ball well so far in the lead up to the season.
Kick returning will be another major point of emphasis for Johnson this season, as “starting field position is huge at the high school level,” according to Roquemore. Daies and Bullock will combine to lead Johnson’s return game.
With a senior quarterback and improvements in the trenches on both sides of the ball, the Knights hope hard work in the offseason translates to winning football. Still, Roquemore said he expects his team to be defined by continued effort and drive, regardless of whether or not that leads to wins.
“That’s something that we take a lot of pride in here,” Roquemore said. “Our kids, win, lose or draw, they’re going to fight and they’re going to play hard.”