Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

RB Johnson, Sunlake on their way up

Sunlake’s Nathan Johnson is turning potential into results, rushing for 1,385 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

Sunlake’s Nathan Johnson is turning potential into results, rushing for 1,385 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

LAND O'LAKES — On Thursday before every game, Sunlake's leading scorer sleeps with a lucky black T-shirt under his pillow.

It was a gift from a friend. White ink handwritten across it reads, "All hail Nathan Johnson 28."

Johnson will lead the Seahawks (9-1, 3-1) when they head to Gainesville (8-2, 4-0) on Friday for the first round of the 6A playoffs.

This is Sunlake's second postseason appearance. In 2011 the Seahawks made it past the first round but lost in the semifinals.

Last year the Seahawks barely missed the playoffs so Johnson wasn't surprised by their success this year.

"I knew we were going to have this season," he said. "This is how we prepared over the summer."

Johnson, who joined the varsity halfway through last year, drives the Seahawks' offense.

The junior is one of the county's top backs with 1,385 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Though he hasn't talked to any colleges, he has heard that recruiters have taken notice and have asked around.

It's a major change from last year when Johnson played in five games and rushed for 45 total yards. But coach Bill Browning expected him to have this kind of season.

"We knew he had a lot of potential," Browning said. "We just had to get him to run low."

The Seahawks lost two key offensive players from last year so varsity coaches started working with Johnson early to help fill the void.

Assistant coach Matt Smith worked extensively with Johnson in the weight room during the offseason. He and Browning were impressed by Johnson's work ethic.

"He's hungry to learn," Smith said. "He's not afraid to put in the time."

Johnson said he worked 10 times harder than he ever has in the weight room, pushed by Smith and the varsity coaches. He said they knew he could reach this point, and their certainty made him believe it, too.

Johnson has become one of Sunlake's strongest and toughest players. The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder can bench 320 pounds and squats 500, Smith said. His next goals are improving his blocking skills and working on his speed.

Browning said Johnson knows how to spot and exploit holes in defensive lines. That, combined with an improved passing game, allowed the Seahawks to make adjustments against rival Land O'Lakes to secure a postseason berth.

Johnson shined against the Gators. Facing a defense that kept Hudson scoreless a week earlier, he scored three touchdowns, rushing for 155 yards on 33 carries.

"We had to find our identity on offense," Browning said. "And we have."

Asked about Friday's game, Johnson grinned. Gainesville has held opponents to 18 points or fewer all season, but Johnson didn't seem fazed.

"Yeah, I'm very excited," he said. "We're ready."

Region quarterfinals

7:30 p.m. Friday

Class 6A

Sunlake at Gainesville

Citrus at Springstead

Class 5A

Hudson at Lakewood

Tarpon Springs at Anclote

Pasco at Citra North Marion

RB Johnson, Sunlake on their way up 11/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 7:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays morning after: How exactly did they let that game slip away

    Blogs

    Rays manager Kevin Cash assumed Thursday's game was over when Gary Sanchez rolled a ground ball toward the shortstop spot with the tying run on third and two outs in the ninth. So did closer Alex Colome. As well as second baseman Tim Beckham.

  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Yankees game

    The Heater

    The 10 strikeouts look flashy, but RHP Chris Archer was not his sharpest Thursday. He allowed three runs on seven hits, including three straight in the two-run second and a Gary Sanchez homer in the third, and lasted only six innings, throwing 102 pitches.

  3. Rays fall to Yankees in 11 on Brett Gardner homer (w/ video)

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — The front office did its part Thursday, making two trades to bolster the roster in a push for the playoffs. But the Rays didn't follow up in a frustrating 6-5 11-inning loss to the Yankees.

    Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge stands on the mound and can only watch as the Yankees’ Brett Gardner starts to circle the bases after his walkoff home run leading off the 11th inning.
  4. Believe it! Rays are buyers, trade for reliever Dan Jennings and 1B/DH Lucas Duda

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — Dan Jennings' ability to render lefty hitters useless with a sinker that gets beaten into the ground and Lucas Duda's power to blast baseballs off and over outfield walls should make the Rays better.

    Lucas Duda
  5. Bucs' direction is decidedly up for first time in several years

    Bucs

    TAMPA — If you want to see a team give the Heisman Trophy stiff-arm to expectations, check out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Tight end O.J. Howard, left, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, was brought in to give QB Jameis Winston another big-play option.