The Johnson High football program is itching to end a three-year span without a playoff appearance. With a team returning 13 starters and equipped with talented skill players, Johnson coach Paul Friel feels like the Knights can compete against traditional contenders Flowery Branch and Gainesville in Region 7B-AAA.
Friel is making two major changes this season he feels will be beneficial to getting the Knights back in the postseason.
First, he is going to implement a two-platoon system with players seeing action on both sides of the football.
"We saw North Hall do the two-platoon last year, and it worked well for them," Friel said.
Secondly, he has put in a spread option offense to utilize the offensive strengths of a big offensive line and very fast receivers, quarterbacks and running backs.
Johnson’s third-year coach feels like he has enough consistency on both sides of the football and enough athletes to put the Knights in the running for the playoffs in 2008.
"We’ll have to take it game by game, but I feel like we’re going to be in every game we play this season," Friel said.
Johnson should have one of the biggest offensive lines in the state this season. The Knights average about 285 pounds across the line with center Justin Hadden (260), right guard E.J. Wright (350), senior guard Major Borders (358), left tackle T.J. Conner and right tackle Tre Lipscomb (270).
Running the football for the Knights is sophomore fullback Mantevius Rucker. He showed flashes of his potential last season with almost 500 yards as a freshman.
"Mantevius is a big kid with great vision of the field," Friel said.
Playing in the slot for the Knights are Tevin Arthur and Mick Shannon. Johnson’s wide receivers include Christian Duguay, Seth Spivey and Kyle Bellamy. Knights senior tight end Chris Cannon was All-Region 7-AAA last season.
At quarterback, the Knights have an option between junior Anthony Prophet and Michael Lorentz. Friel says it’s a luxury to have two good athletes that can both play the quarterback position, however he plans on settling with one starter by opening day.
Borders, Lipscomb and Wright will all play on the interior of Johnson’s 3-4 defense. Caleb Jackson, a junior, and Cannon are playing on the end. The Knights have a very tough linebacking unit headed by Times Elite 11 selection, junior middle linebacker Gilberto Espinoza, and weakside linebacker Josh Owens, who scored three touchdowns on defense last season. Taylor Whitmire is going to be at strongside linebacker for the Knights. Joey Brooks and Conner will also see playing time at linebacker.
Shannon, Arthur and Cam Evans are the safeties this season. Duguay, Prophet, Spivey and Brett Bellamy will play on the corners.
Chris Henry was brought over from the soccer field to handle the kicking duties. Espinoza will do the punting for the Knights. Arthur, Duguay and Rucker will all share time with the punt and kick return duties.
Friel is already comfortable with the fact that the Knights have players that better fit their positions this season. He thinks that may translate into consistency in all facets of the game. If Johnson’s senior leaders can keep their team on track, expect the Knights to battle for one of the playoff spots in the competitive Region 7B-AAA.