2022 All-County Football: Vicksburg’s Johnson takes Defensive Player of the Year award

Published 8:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2022

Like a lot of his teammates, Demarcus Johnson got an early start to his high school football career.

The defensive tackle was thrown into the fire as a freshman in 2020 as part of a larger rebuilding effort for Vicksburg High’s program. He was already physically gifted, but soon learned that wasn’t going to be enough to succeed at the varsity level.

“In junior high I was always a dominant football player,” Johnson said. “But when I got up here they taught me you’ve got to really work your technique because these boys are bigger. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.”

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It seems that Johnson learned his lessons well.

In two-plus seasons the defensive tackle has racked up 23 sacks and helped turn Vicksburg into one of the most dominant defenses in MHSAA Class 5A. He was named MHSAA Region 2-5A Defensive Player of the Year this season, and now is adding The Vicksburg Post’s Warren County Defensive Player of the Year award to his resumé.

“If I’m the Defensive Player of the Year it shows me I’m doing something right and I want to keep on that trend,” Johnson said.

Johnson made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2020. He was selected to The Vicksburg Post’s all-county team after registering three sacks and 39 tackles in about half a season as a starter.

He’s had 10 sacks in each of the past two seasons, as well as a combined 40 tackles for loss, to lead a defense that has allowed an average of 11.3 points in that span.

Vicksburg head coach Todd McDaniel said Johnson’s intelligence and awareness, as much as his size and strength, is the key to his success.

“Whatever we throw at him, he absorbs it like a sponge. As far as the techniques, or offensive or defensive game plan, he knows what everybody is doing on the field,” McDaniel said. “It takes a special guy to understand and comprehend everything that’s going on on the field, offensively or defensively.”

Johnson doesn’t just understand the broader concepts of football, he’s adept at picking up on little things in the moment. He said he’s learned to identify physical tells from the way opponents act before the snap, and how to take advantage of them.

“I always had that, but I embraced it more because (defensive coordinator Christopher) Lacey started teaching us more about that. Like the angles and how they look. Now, that’s what I look for,” Johnson said, adding that when he sees an opponent giving away a cue before the play, “It makes me happy. I know I’m fixing to go through him and make a big play.”

The blend of phyiscal and mental ability has made Johnson not just an outstanding defensive tackle, but a very good offensive one as well.

When the offensive line struggled this season, McDaniel inserted Johnson at guard. By the end of the year he was a full-time two-way player.

Vicksburg’s offense had three backs backs with at least 970 rushing yards and averaged 27.2 points per game.

“Demarcus just wants to win. He doesn’t care what side of the ball he’s on. Defense is his expertise, but he’s probably one of the better offensive linemen in the state also,” McDaniel said. “When college coaches come to recruit him, they don’t need to just look at the defensive side of the ball. He’s a hell of a guy. He’s a great football player. He’s a great athlete. You seldom get a kid who can do all those things and do them well.”

Johnson said he enjoys defense more, but playing on the offensive line is growing on him.

“Defense is my true love, but offense is pretty fun too. It grew on me more,” he said. “I played offense in junior high, too, but it grew on me more because I’m playing better people now.”

Johnson’s individual success helped take his team to a new level. The Gators posted back-to-back winning seasons and allowed less than 200 points in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-08. They have six shutouts and allowed eight points or less in 12 of their last 25 games.

The dominant defense helped the Gators finish 10-3 this season and reach the Class 5A semifinals, both for the first time since 2001. They won their first region championship since 1990.

“It was fun from the beginning. We were in the weight room for a long time. Coaches told us we were going to make it deep in the playoffs. I’m sad we didn’t make it to the state championship, but we got a lot farther than what people thought,” Johnson said. “We hold each other accountable. We work hard. We know what we’ve got to do. We didn’t want people to score over seven on us, so we handled business.”

2022 ALL-COUNTY FOOTBALL
• All-County defensive team
• All-County offensive team
• Vicksburg’s McDaniel wins Coach of the Year award
• Warren Central RB Trey Hall takes Offensive Player of the Year award

Vicksburg Post Defensive Players of the Year
2022 – Demarcus Johnson, DL, Vicksburg
2021 – Demarion Robinson, LB, Vicksburg
2020 – Taylen Smith, DL, Warren Central
2019 – Malik Sims, LB, Warren Central
2018 – Lamar Gray, DB, Warren Central
2017 – Nick Anderson, LB, Vicksburg
2016 – Nick Anderson, LB, Vicksburg
2015 – Jomon O’Neal, DL, Vicksburg
2014 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central
2013 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central
2012 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central
and Derrick Thomas, LB, Warren Central
2011 – Devon Bell, P, Warren Central
2010 – Lee Douglas, LB, Central Hinds
2009 – Mitchell Hoskins, LB, Port Gibson
2008 – Carlos Williams, LB, Vicksburg
2007 – Carlos Williams, LB, Vicksburg
2006 – Dekores Branch, LB, Vicksburg
2005 – Willis McGowan, DB, Vicksburg
2004 – Chico Hunter, DB, Warren Central
2003 – Humphrey Barlow, LB, Porters Chapel
2002 – D’Eldrick Taylor, DB, Vicksburg
2001 – D’Eldrick Taylor, DB, Vicksburg
2000 – Thad Henderson, DT, Warren Central
1999 – Thad Henderson, DT, Warren Central
1998 – Jason Myers, LB, Vicksburg
1997 – Josh Morgan, DB, Warren Central
1996 – Ivan Martin, DL, Warren Central
1995 – Chris Rainey, LB, Vicksburg
1994 – Eric Payne, LB, Warren Central
1993 – Michael Myers, DL, Vicksburg
1992 – Michael Myers, DL, Vicksburg
1991 – Chris Henderson, LB, Vicksburg
1990 – Ronnie Taylor, LB, Vicksburg
1989 – Robert Winters, LB, Warren Central
1988 – Robert Winters, LB, Warren Central
1987 – Jack Muirhead, LB, Warren Central

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 139-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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