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Johnson makes ‘A’ grade on, off field
Blake Johnson’s football career started with a thud.
The soon-to-be Olympic High School senior buckled his first chin strap in third grade after his dad signed him up to play Pee Wee football in Pueblo, Colo. But rather than scoring touchdowns, hauling in shoestring catches or making bone-rattling tackles, Johnson got trounced and trampled.
“I hated football so much ... I could not stand it,” he said, laughing. “The older guys killed me, I never played, the coach — he wasn’t a good coach — it was terrible.”
When his dad registered him again in fourth grade following a family move to the Bremerton/Silverdale area, Johnson was skeptical at best.
He joined the North Perry Pee Wee Football League and met “Coach Barry,” a man who Johnson said “taught me everything,” giving him the confidence and skills to succeed — and enjoy — the gridiron.
“He was just really easy to work with,” Johnson said. “I’ve enjoyed it ever since.”
Johnson, who also plays baseball, has since emerged as Olympic’s top defensive player and is a team captain. He led the team — and entire area — with 12 interceptions his sophomore season in 2007. He’s maintained a 3.8 grade point average along the way, including a 4.0 this year as a junior, and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Also a teen mentor at Esquire Hills Elementary School, Johnson is a living juggling act.
For those reasons, he is the 2008-09 Central Kitsap Reporter Male Student-Athlete of the Year.
“It is obvious that he derives great satisfaction from playing sports, but I also see a young man with a good heart,” said Bonnie Bogert, a counselor at Ridgetop Junior High, the school Johnson attended through ninth grade. “He talks about his love of learning, his great teachers and coaches, family and friends, and the activities he takes part in when he helps others in our community.”
Born in Carlsbad, N.M., the 5-foot-11 Johnson is more than an athlete. His list of accomplishments on the field are lengthy — a member of the all-state football team in 2007 and an all-league baseball player in 2008 — but his off-field endeavors are equally impressive.
With three Advanced Placement courses on his course schedule for the 2009-10 school year, the aspiring businessman is looking to learn all he can before college.
Johnson hopes to play Division I football — according to stanfordrivals.com, the University of Colorado, Baylor University, Stanford University, the University of Washington and Washington State University are recruiting him — but he understands education is most important.
He would rather accept a challenge than enjoy a cakewalk.
“A 4.0 (gpa) is great, but I’m trying to get those hard classes in,” he said. “I’d rather get a 3.7 with the hardest classes the school has to offer than a 4.0 with the easiest.”
When his senior year ends in 2010, Johnson will have completed a combined 10 honors and AP classes. He calls math “the most important subject.”
The ‘A’s’ haven’t come easy for Johnson, who earned mostly ‘B’s’ during junior high. Eventually, however, he realized grades were important and the drive to succeed consumed him.
“I started kicking myself in the butt, saying ‘I’m not going to go to a good school if I keep this up,’” Johnson said. “I think it was motivation. And I had a few teachers kick me in the pants a few times.”
The 175-pound defensive back is quick to credit his instructors, saying “I’ve had great teachers who have made (school) interesting.”
He admits it’s difficult to balance school and sports with a social life, but with a little dedication and commitment, it’s manageable.
“I take it from my parents, I’m stubborn,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to fail at anything. I’m gonna bust my butt until I get it. I think it’s just self-motivation.”
As a teen mentor, Johnson took an Esquire Hills sixth-grader under his wing. He helped elementary student study “when he needed it, but he was pretty smart” and offered him advice on “life stuff.”
Johnson called himself a “big brother.”
“It definitely reminded me of when I was in sixth grade. It was fun, I always went there and left with a smile. It was great,” Johnson said. “I tried to just hang out with him, do stuff he likes, just get to know him a little.”
Camaraderie — either with a sixth-grader or a high school teammate — is important to Johnson.
After sustaining a concussion followed by an injury to his foot, he was forced to the sideline for much of Olympic’s 2008 football season. He played the first and last two games, sitting out six in the middle.
The team lost its first five games without the defensive captain before rebounding to qualify for the playoffs.
“It was the worst, it was the worst feeling ever,” Johnson said of sitting out. “You’re watching the games and you see something and you’re like, ‘Dang, I could have stopped that or I could have helped on that play.’”
“I think what we did was we got cocky. We were riding (the 2007) high, thinking, ‘OK, this is easy now, we made the playoffs, we lost in overtime. This is gonna be easy, we’re 8-2,’” he said. “We come in and just get smashed.”
The Trojans return a slew of playmakers, meaning expectations for 2009 are “very high.” Bruising running back Larry Dixon, who is being recruited by Pac-10 schools such as UW, quarterback Zach Bird, running back Kienan Paulino and linebacker Chris Groat are among the talent returning.
Johnson hopes the team can duplicate the success of the 8-2 season in 2007.
“I think we’re going to have a really good team this year,” he said. “It’s bittersweet because it’s senior year. We’re gonna go all out.”
The defender who runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash is going to shift from defensive back to free safety. In the past, coach Eric Allen, who is taking a year off, has put Johnson on the opponent’s top receiver. This season, however, he’ll roam free in the secondary.
“I’m just worried about keeping the score down,” Johnson said. “As our defense is trying to say, ‘We’ve got to score more than they do.’”
On the diamond, Johnson was named to the Kitsap News Group’s 2009 All-Kitsap County Baseball Team. He posted a .455 batting average and scored a team-best 29 runs to go with 12 RBI. Primarily a center fielder, he stole 16 bases while slugging .709.
Baseball, however, has “always been a little more relaxed than football” for Johnson, who credited Olympic baseball coach Nate Andrews for holding him to high, yet realistic, expectations.
“He’ll let you know when you’re wrong, he’ll get in your face, which I kind of like,” he said. “He’s very blunt about it, he’s definitely not going to beat around the bush.”
The senior-to-be enjoys soccer and plans to play rec league basketball while focusing on football, baseball and classwork his final year at Olympic. His advice to current and up-and-coming student-athletes?
“Enjoy it while it lasts, make the most of it and don’t get caught up in stupid stuff,” he said. “Work hard, as hard as you can, because you’ll never get it back. You don’t want to look back and say, ‘Dang, I wish I had worked harder.’”