Two years ago during a leadership exercise, Johnson High quarterback Sam Corbett was asked by his head coach to write down one word he felt encapsulated the football program.
Then a sophomore player for the Knights, he penciled the response and handed it over to coach Jason Roquemore, who glanced at the sheet and was a little taken back by the answer. It was a word that really best described Corbett: driven.
Corbett has seen the hardest of times as the starting quarterback for Johnson. It has been more famine than feast for Corbett in his first three years under center for the Knights, tasting victory just twice in 2015 before going winless for back-to-back campaigns. Yet, through the drought, Corbett kept an even keel.
Whether it be on the heels of a 24-game losing skid or a winning start to a season, the expectation remains the same for Corbett, said Roquemore.
“In all aspects, I’ve never seen a kid more driven to be the best at whatever he’s doing — whether it be in the classroom, in the community or on the field,” Roquemore said.
“He’s driven regardless of the circumstance.”
Now a senior, Corbett’s poise has helped steer the Knights toward greener pastures three weeks into 2018. On Friday night, he propelled Johnson to its first home win in more than two seasons.
Corbett rushed for 144 yards and a trio of touchdowns to headline a dominant Johnson ground attack in a 34-13 win over Hall County newcomer Cherokee Bluff. The Week 3 rout of the Bears was just the third time in the last three seasons Johnson (2-1) had scored 30 or more points in a contest.
The Knights bounced right back from only managing eight points in a discouraging loss to Hall County foe West Hall the previous week. Two additional ball carriers ran for over 100 yards against the Bears as Johnson accrued 429 rushing yards, a single-game high in Roquemore’s seven-year tenure at the school.
It was also a big confidence boost for a Johnson program, which Corbett said he felt competes in arguably the toughest 5A region in the state beside perennial power and defending 8-5A champion Buford. Region play for the Knights will start when the two teams meet Sept. 28.
“You can’t go (into region play) with deflated confidence and then go up against Buford High School and expect to do anything,” Corbett said. “To have these games, to get ourselves rolling, is big.”
Corbett, who despite not completing a pass for the game, used the length of his body to put the Knights ahead for good in the closing seconds of the first half. Corbett took the snap from the Bears’ 1-yard-line and dove over the pile to make it 12-7.
In the final quarter, his third touchdown run stretched the margin back to double digits after Cherokee Bluff cut it to 19-13 on a Connor Boyd 2-yard touchdown.
For Corbett’s efforts, he is the Times football player of the week.
“Sam, man. He’s just the ultimate competitor,” Roquemore said. “It’s been a joy the last four years to see this guy compete every day, whether it be at practice, in the offseason or in the weight room — and especially on the field on Friday nights. A guy like Sam just doesn’t come around that often.
“He just wants to do it the right way.”
That mentality correlates with Corbett’s academics, as the four-year starter also holds a 4.3 GPA, according to his coach.
“The coaches being driven, and the players around me being driven helps me as well. ... I don’t want to just ‘leave it all’ in the classroom,” Corbett said. “It’s just keeping that across all aspects of my life, and then never dropping off. I just keep that same mindset in everything I do.”
As for the team, Roquemore continued to be encouraged by the improvement of the offensive line and the way his players persevere through self-inflicted wounds including three turnovers against Cherokee Bluff.
Corbett said he feels added depth and the Knights’ ability to perform in all three phases has been a boost as well.
“It shows our kids that when we do execute, it brings credibility to the things we’ve been doing, you know, the last couple of years,” the Knights coach said. “It was good for those guys to play well up front from an assignment standpoint. And when you have guys like Sam and some guys around him that can make some plays, it kind of brings it all together.”
While Roquemore was pleased from an execution standpoint, he said they have to clean up the self-inflicted wounds moving forward.
“We’ve put the ball on the ground the last two weeks, so if we expect to continue to build momentum as we move forward and get ready for region play, we’re gonna have to eliminate those kinds of mistakes,” the coach said.
Johnson plays at Riverside Military Academy (1-1) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.