CHANNEL 2 SPORTS ZONE GAME OF THE WEEK
I’m heading over to Gainesville this evening to watch one of the state’s great backyard rivalries as the Red Elephants take on the North Hall Trojans at “The Brickyard.”
It’s the “Channel 2 Sports Zone Game of the Week.” You can catch it live at 7:30 p.m. on WSB’s second digital channel, RTV 2.2 (Comcast 248/Charter 126) or catch the replay on WSB’s Channel 2 at 1 a.m. tonight.
There are a lot of top-notch college prospects I’m looking forward to seeing in action, including North Hall junior wide receiver C.J. Curry (UGA offer) and Gainesville senior defensive tackle Thomas Niles (UCF commitment). But more than anybody I’m excited about finally seeing in person Gainesville linebacker A.J. Johnson.
If you read the AJC regularly you know that the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Johnson was an AJC Super 11 selection this year and he’s one of the state’s top two or three linebackers (Tucker’s James Vaughters and Cook’s Shannon Brown being the others).
Johnson was an absolute wrecking ball on Gainesville’s 14-1 Class AAA state finalist team last year and he promises to have an even greater impact this season as a two-way player for the Red Elephants.
Interestingly, Johnson has already eliminated in-state powers Georgia and Georgia Tech from recruiting consideration.Until fairly recently the Yellow Jackets were in it for him but he has never seriously considered the Bulldogs.
“I don’t understand it really,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller told me. “Georgia’s a long story. The previous defensive staff [headed by Willie Martinez] didn’t like him as a linebacker. [New defensive coordinator Todd] Grantham came in and said he loved A.J. as a linebacker in their new 3-4 scheme but by then he already moved on I guess.”
Johnson actually committed to Tennessee as a junior but decommitted after head coach Lane Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron took their act west to Southern Cal. Johnson did not immediately consider the Trojans as an option, mainly because of the distance. But he recently re-established communication with the coaches and says now he may give them a look.
“I talked to him a could of days ago,” Johnson said of Orgeron, who was recruiting him for the Vols. “He said he wanted me to take a minute to come out there to visit them. I probably will.”
Johnson’s recruitment had been relatively quiet this summer but picked up again after he was named to the AJC Super 11 team in August. The Super 11 represents the 11 best high school football players in the state.
“I wouldn’t call it busy but I’ve been around a little,” Johnson said of recruiting. “I’ve been up to Clemson since the season started and I plan to go to Tennessee and Florida. I’m probably going to take some official visits during the season. I’ll probably take officials to Miami, Clemson, USC, Florida and Tennessee.”
That said, Johnson said it is basically coming down to Florida and Tennessee for him. “Pretty much those two,” he said.
Nevertheless, Johnson is in no hurry to make a decision.
“I’m not sure when I’ll do it; it could be any time,” he said. “I don’t want to pin myself down as far as a time. Whenever I get that feeling I’ll know.”
In the meantime, Johnson said he has nothing but North Hall on his mind. The Trojans are the A-number-one rival of Gainesville as the schools are located only a few miles apart, they play in the same region and have alternated region championships almost every other year.
This will be Johnson’s third season participating as a starter in the game, which this year matches a pair of 1-1 teams.
“It’s been a rivalry for a long, long time,” Johnson said. “When you play in this game, the stands are packed out and it is loud. We have to get in there, take care of business and get out.”
North Hall is very likely to see No. 45 line up as the “Wildcat” in Gainesville’s no-huddle spread offense. Johnson took his first snaps out of the formation in their last game two weeks ago. He responded with nine carries for 76 yards (8.4 ypc) and a touchdown in the 31-22 win over White County.
Playing offense was Johnson’s idea.
“After the [40-19] loss to Buford, A.J. came into my office and he sat there for like two minutes and didn’t say anything,” Miller said. “Finally, he speaks up. ‘Can you get me involved in the offense?’ I said, ‘Sure. I thought you’d never ask.’”
Said Johnson: “It’s just football to me. I just like being on the field and doing whatever I can to help us win.”
Just showing up is a pretty good start.