FCA Hogoheegee All-Stars
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Football fans from Northeast Tennessee were studying their rosters Saturday as Devon Johnson of Richlands ran through and over tacklers in the FCA Senior Bowl at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
Greg Mance was not surprised. For the past couple years, the Richlands head coach has watched his star student torment defenses around the Southwest District.
“Devon is a man among boys, and I’m just glad everybody got to see him,” Mance said.
The 6-foot-3 Johnson accounted for 160 yards rushing and three scores on 22 man-like carries. That was good enough to win the Tucker Montgomery Heart of a Champion Award for the Southwest Virginia squad.
Johnson said he wasn’t sure what to expect coming into the game. He had one underlying goal.
“I didn’t know anything about who we were playing, but I just wanted to play hard and help my guys get a win,” Johnson said.
As for the heavy work load, Johnson was more than willing.
“To tell the truth, I didn’t think I had that many carries,” Johnson said. “I’m used to getting the ball around 15 times but I liked this.”
As usual, Johnson became stronger as the game progressed. That spelled trouble for the NET stars.
“I was feeling a bunch of energy and couldn’t wait to get back in the game,” Johnson said. “The defense was working hard but we just kept pounding and pounding.”
After the Southwest Virginia offense sputtered early, Johnson gradually took over. He repeatedly bounced off the initial hit and then extended each run with his leg strength, vision and potent stiff arm.
Jonathan Turpin of George Wythe cleared a path for Johnson with his steady blocking at fullback.
“It was a privilege to block for Devon,” Turpin said. “We scrimmaged Richlands this summer, so I knew he was a strong and explosive player. He put on a quite a show today.”
Due to his duties with the Richlands basketball team, Johnson had to curtail his football preparations this past week. Through three basketball games, Johnson averages 16.7 ppg.
“Turpin and my linemen gave me great blocks all day,” Johnson said. “I can’t thank those guys enough.”
Johnson scored on runs of thirty-six, five and two yards. On the 36-yard charge, Johnson used the block of Clintwood’s Tyler Childress and then blasted over a defensive back on the sideline. For the final score, Johnson bounced off two tacklers who tried to tackle him on the legs.
Massive Richlands lineman Josh Hess has seen the highlight show many times before. At this point, no feat of brute strength, ability or speed is a surprise.
“Today was the usual Devon Johnson. And I think he made a statement,” Hess said.
Johnson earned All-Group AA honors last season as a running back and linebacker. In the fourth quarter Saturday, Johnson offered a tasty glimpse of his defensive skills by slamming prolific West Greene running back Dalton Boles for a five-yard loss at the Southwest Virginia nine-yard line.
“I saw Devon do things like that every week in practice and games,” Hess said. “He’s got a great future. I have no doubt that Devon will play on Sundays someday.”
While most of the all-stars suited up for the final time Saturday, the adventure is just beginning for Johnson.
Hess and Johnson plan to attend Tuesday’s Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., between Marshall and Florida International University. Hess has committed to play at FIU while Johnson made a verbal commitment to Marshall before this season.
Some major college coaches forbid or at least discourage their recruits from participating in all-star games but Johnson earned the green light.
“The [Marshall] coaches knew that I wanted to play today, and they said it would be fine,” Johnson said. “It was great to get out there with my Richlands teammates one last time. Maybe, I will get to play against Josh in a bowl game someday.”
As he accepted handshakes with the loyal Richlands supporters and coaches following Saturday’s game, Johnson admitted that he still feels the sting of losing to Cave Spring in this season’s Division 3 Region IV title game.
“Yeah, I still haven’t shaken that,” Johnson said. “I just got to keep moving on and get ready for the next challenge.”
And Mance is eager to watch the next episode of the Johnson.
“If you look back at Devon’s prep career, he always stood out in the big games and today was no different,” Mance said. “A lot of folks here were impressed but to me it looked like a regular Friday night.”
Note: Josh Jordan of Virginia High was unable to play Saturday but he did serve as captain for the Southwest Virginia team. Jordan suffered a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL) on the first offensive play of the Lebanon game in week nine.
“It’s really tough to get hurt like that as a senior, and especially on Senior Night,” Jordan said. “I’m just going to grow from this and try to come back stronger.”
An exceptional student, Jordan is hoping to attract the interest of football recruiters from Harvard or Princeton. He is also considering a walk-on opportunity at William and Mary or playing at Emory & Henry.
“The injury has been hard to deal with, but I’m doing better,” Jordan said. “I should be jogging soon. And within a couple months, I hope to be able to start working out again.”
Running back Caleb Widner from Abingdon was also forced to miss Saturday’s game after injuring his knee in a midseason contest against John Battle.