Versatile linebacker Johnson turned defense into offense

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Jeff Johnson isn’t the biggest football player. He doesn’t come from the biggest school, nor does he have the brightest football future.

But few players had as big an impact as Johnson did while playing linebacker for Tri-County Academy this season.

Johnson racked up 150 tackles, returned three of his four interceptions for touchdowns, had five sacks, forced four fumbles and collected one postseason award The Vicksburg Post’s all-Area Defensive Player of the Year.

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“Jeff was our leader on defense. If you needed a big play, you could always count on him,” Tri-County defensive coordinator Joe Goolsby said.

Johnson flourished in his senior season at outside linebacker, but it wasn’t the only position he played. Goolsby moved him wherever the situation called for, from nose guard to safety.

It didn’t matter to Johnson, who’s a versatile 5-foot-11, 220-pounder. He got to hit people wherever he went.

“There ain’t nothing like it, I don’t guess,” Johnson said of tackling an opponent. “To come up and flat-back somebody who doesn’t even see you coming it don’t get any better than that.”

While Johnson is a menace on the field, Goolsby said he’s just the opposite off of it.

“If you have a daughter, he’s the kind they never bring home, because they always bring home the bad ones. And he’s a good one,” Goolsby said with a laugh.

Although Johnson’s play at linebacker was a big reason the Rebels were able to record three straight shutouts in the playoffs and advance to the Academy-A championship game, it wasn’t the only place he was a terror.

Johnson was also Tri-County’s leading rusher, with 980 yards and 15 touchdowns, caught seven passes for 200 yards, and ran one kickoff back for a touchdown. But he preferred defense.

“I’d rather play defense myself. You ain’t got to run this play or run that play, you can just get out there and find the football,” he said.

But despite his ability, Johnson’s playing days may be over. Belhaven has shown some interest, but Johnson said he is more interested in playing baseball he’s also a solid catcher. He is interested in attending Delta State, and may try to walk on with the Division II national champions.

He said he’ll still miss playing on Friday nights.

“I’ll just miss the game itself. Every day when school’s out, you know where you’re going. On Friday nights out there, the smell of it, the crowd, it’s heaven,” he said. “Getting yourself up for the ballgame every Friday night and knowing what you have to do, it’s a challenge every week. I’m going to miss it a lot.”