Not your average Joe

Published 10:30 am Thursday, July 9, 2015

Vicksburg High sophomore quarterback Joe Johnson smiles as he throws to a teammate. Johnson will attend the prestigious Manning Passing Academy quarterback camp that starts Thursday in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Vicksburg High sophomore quarterback Joe Johnson smiles as he throws to a teammate. Johnson will attend the prestigious Manning Passing Academy quarterback camp that starts Thursday in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Gators’ quarterback to attend prestigious Manning Passing Academy

For four years, ever since he started playing quarterback, Joe Johnson has wanted to go to the Manning Passing Academy.

He wasn’t allowed to for two years because of his age. The next two years, it filled up and he was denied a spot. This year, however, as he’s about to become Vicksburg High’s starting quarterback, he’s finally got his chance.

Johnson, a sophomore, will head down to Thibodeaux, Louisiana for the four-day quarterback camp that begins today. He’ll learn from top NFL and college players and see how he stacks up against some of the best high school quarterbacks in the country.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Around 1,200 campers and 120 coaches from all over the United States will attend the Manning Passing Academy. Started 20 years ago by NFL legends Archie and Peyton Manning, it has exploded into a major event on the football calendar and one of the most prestigious camps in the country.

“It’s real big-time. I thank my dad for signing me up for it. I’ve been trying to go since sixth grade, but this is the first time I was able to go,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a good mentorship. They might give me drills on how to improve my throwing power and other things. This camp is just going to continue to progress me, and I’m excited about what the season holds in store in the fall.”

Vicksburg High doesn’t begin preseason practice until Aug. 3, but there is no doubt Johnson will be its starting quarterback. Coach Marcus Rogers said he knew it from the first time he watched Johnson practice as an eighth grader last spring.

Johnson saw playing time in a few games late last season as the backup to senior Marquez Pickett, and was handed the keys to the offense this spring.

“The fundamentals and the mechanics have been there since day one. Nobody can take those,” Rogers said. “When I saw him day one when I got here last March, I watched his mechanics and fundamentals and said ‘Man, I’ve just got to get with you on your reads, your route progressions, that type of deal to make sure you know what’s going on mentally.’ That’s been the easy part, because he’s a student of the game. He’s an A-B kid, has a 3.8 GPA, and he has mom and dad. That helps.”

Johnson, who describes himself as a dual threat quarterback, has continued his development this summer. In addition to a number of 7-on-7 games with his VHS teammates, he’s attended a half-dozen camps across the southeast.

The Manning Passing Academy is the next step in the process, he said. Today and Sunday have fairly light schedules, but Friday and Saturday each feature 16 hours of drills, workouts, classroom instruction and lectures by guest speakers.

“It’s going to be a loaded day,” Johnson said, adding that he was looking forward to absorbing as many of the lessons as he could. “It’s going to help me when I compete. There’s so much you can learn with the drills and the coaches. It’s going to be the real thing.”

Rogers has high expectations for Johnson’s high school career, but realistic ones for this season. He wants his quarterback to grow into the role this year in the hopes that the experience will lead to deep playoff runs in 2016 and ’17.

Johnson has already made big strides in adjusting to varsity game speed and learning the nuances of the position. The next few days, Rogers said, will accelerate that process.

“Just the tutelage he’s going to get down there, from NFL quarterbacks to the top 30 or 35 college quarterbacks. Now you’re going to be around your top high school kids. It’ll raise your competition level and you can see what kids your age are doing and what you need to do,” Rogers said. “Staying three or four days and getting knowledge from those guys will be the best thing, because he’s a sponge. He listens to people who know what they’re talking about.”

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 reporters in the paper's 140-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.

email author More by Ernest