Johnson headed to Alcorn, Smith to run track at K-State

Published 10:00 am Thursday, February 6, 2014

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Alcorn State reached into Vicksburg to find its quarterback of the future, while the fastest man in Mississippi is sprinting off to Kansas State.
Vicksburg High quarterback Tavares Johnson Jr. made good on his verbal commitment to Alcorn on Wednesday, signing a national letter of intent with the Lorman school on the first day football players were allowed to do so.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s football teammate Terrell Smith — the reigning MHSAA Class 6A champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes — accepted a track scholarship offer from Kansas State. He does not plan to play football.
The two Vicksburg High players were the only ones from Warren County to sign with four-year schools on national signing day.
Three other players, including Vicksburg defensive lineman Dikembe Stewart, signed with junior colleges. Stewart signed with Coahoma County Community College.
Johnson was swayed by a number of factors in Alcorn’s recruiting. He said the chance to earn playing time, and especially the chance to play quarterback, made the Braves an early favorite. He committed to them in early November and never seriously wavered.
“Most of the D-I colleges wanted me to change positions, and they gave me a chance to play quarterback, Johnson said. “I’ve been playing quarterback since I was 8 years old in the peewees in Florida. Going to college to play another position is not a good fit. I was trained all my life to be a quarterback.”
Johnson threw for 2,836 yards and 28 touchdowns as a sophomore at Cleveland East Side, then moved to Vicksburg when his father, Tavares Sr., was hired as VHS’ head coach in 2011.
Johnson Jr. missed the last three games of the 2012 season with a broken bone in his leg, but rebounded with a stellar senior season. He threw for 1,601 yards and 16 touchdowns, and added 430 yards and six touchdowns rushing.
“I just really liked him,” Alcorn head coach Jay Hopson said. “He came into camp and I liked his demeanor. There’s a lot to T.J. Sharp young man, attentive. I think he’s got a lot of upside.”
Johnson will be one of five quarterbacks on Alcorn’s roster next season, including incumbent starter John Gibbs Jr. As one of only 14 players signed by Alcorn on Wednesday, and the only quarterback, Johnson was optimistic about the future.
“I felt that having only 10 slots, and they wanted me, I had to open their eyes. So it’s a good move for me,” Johnson said.
Smith played football for three years, and rushed for 993 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but his heart was on the track and not the gridiron.
The senior ran a 10.67 in the Class 6A 100-meter finals last May, which was the fastest time in any classification at the state meet. He’s also the two-time defending champion in the 200 meters. The idea of running in a straight line was more appealing than zig-zagging through a maze of 250-pound linebackers, he said.
“I had offers for football, but I wasn’t into it,” Smith said. “There’s no need to get hurt in a sport I have no interest in.”
In addition to his excellence on the track for VHS, Smith has been a star on the club circuit with the Mississippi Heat. He finished fourth in the men’s 17-18-year-olds’ 200 meters at the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics last year. Smith said that while he’ll try to make a splash on the college level next season, he’s got his eye on even bigger things.
“I’m going to be one of the names you hear about on TV that people all across the nation know,” he said. “Now I’m just the guy from Vicksburg. Next it’s going to be the guy from Kansas State. Then the guy from the U.S., if you know what I’m saying.”
Stewart wasn’t eligible to play in 2013 after transferring to Vicksburg from Port Gibson, but showed enough potential early in his high school career to earn a scholarship offer from Coahoma County.
Stewart had 41 tackles and four sacks as a junior defensive tackle at Port Gibson. As a sophomore, he registered 39 tackles and eight sacks.
Stewart said Coahoma was just a good fit from a football and cultural standpoint.
“They made me feel comfortable down in the Delta. Southern folks,” he said with a smile. “They’ve got a new head coach, and I like him too.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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