Any summer day you might go to Greenway Avenue Stadium to get a little exercise you are likely to see any number of high school athletes there working out — football players, soccer players, basketball players, any kind of player you might want to think of. And it’s through the stadium during the summer of this day has become the playgrounds of the days from some of our youths. If you’re looking for a nice, quiet place to spend a lazy summer afternoon, don’t go to Greenway. There’s too much activity going on there for soul searching.
One of the most frequent and active faces you would have seen at Greenway last summer was that of Ty Johnson’s, the fleet — okay, really, really fast — junior running back and cornerback for the Fort Hill Sentinels, not to mention the Offensive Player of the Game and The Great American Rivalry Series Player of the Game in yesterday’s 46-20 Fort Hill victory over Allegany, which capped a 10-0 regular season for the Sentinels.
What makes Johnson such a familiar presence is not so much that he’s there, but what he does when he is there. The discipline and the precision with which he conducts his own workouts and the eagerness he displays to not only work out with his teammates, but to lead them through the various drills is what catches your attention. A softspoken and gentlemanly young man, Johnson, who stands 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, invests the same thought, consideration and patience to answer a reporter’s questions that he does to make tedious and otherwise boring summertime drills and conditioning interesting and efficient. He pretty much gets down to the brass tacks of things and likely would be a wonderful coach or teacher if he actually saw himself as being such.
“Not really,” he said when asked if he considered himself the leader of the summertime workout group or, for that matter, a team leader of any kind. “If the guys want to work to improve ... anybody’s welcome to join. I welcome them. We love to work hard.”
We love to work hard. That was the theme of the Sentinels’ postgame comments Saturday as they said they understood they would have to if they were to A.) complete a 10-0 regular season and B.) beat a team like Allegany, their crosstown rival, in yesterday’s Homecoming Game.
“We watched a lot of film,” said senior linebacker Cody Dolly, who had a game-high 10 tackles and was named Defensive Player of the Game by the media. “We knew Allegany had to win to get into the playoffs and we knew they were going to give us their best shot. And they did. They showed us a lot of diversity, but all the film we watched paid off — offensively and defensively.
“We left practice late every night (last week) because Allegany is always a big game.”
As for Johnson, he is not a player who saves any type of performance for any particular game. He’s all-out all the time. However, he certainly produced his biggest game on the biggest stage yesterday, scoring Fort Hill’s first three touchdowns on big, big plays, and at even bigger moments.
The Campers won the coin toss and elected to defer their choice until the second half, knowing full well they would have to kick to start the game, and knowing full well they could not kick deep to Fort Hill’s lightning-fast return men. Only problem is, the low kick Alco placekicker Nate Condor tried to squib tailed up like a Jim Palmer fastball and right into the hands of deep man Johnson, who caught the kickoff at the Fort Hill 12 the way Brooks Robinson caught a shoulder-high line drive at third. Eighty-eight yards and 13 seconds later, Johnson crossed the goal line untouched to give the Sentinels the 6-0 lead.
With the Campers playing for their playoff lives, they wasted little time in taking advantage of stout defense, a Fort Hill turnover and an aggressive offensive approach to take a 12-7 lead on a pair of Trenton Eirich touchdown runs. Clearly, Allegany meant business and clearly momentum and tempo were on their side.
That is until 6:52 left in the half with Fort Hill seemingly on the verge of being on its heels, when quarterback Hunter Squires handed the ball to Johnson behind the Fort Hill 27. Ten seconds and 73 yards later, Johnson crossed the goal line untouched, having run the sweep to his left and along the Fort Hill sideline to give the Sentinels the lead they would not relinquish.
Two Allegany offensive plays and 76 seconds later, Johnson came up from the secondary to lunge in front of a Camper receiver to intercept a pass in front of the Allegany sideline and, 45 yards later, crossed the goal line untouched for the score that would give the Sentinels a 21-12 halftime lead.
Was Johnson beginning to develop a complex because nobody was touching him? Was he radioactive, or is he just that fast?
“No,” he said with a smile. “I have Mr. Carlin and all the guys on our line to thank for that. With those guys taking care of me I just followed their blocks, cut to the middle and found the open field.”
And when you can read the field, when you can find the open field and run the football the way Ty Johnson does, you visit a lot end zones untouched. With many more being planned for the horizon.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org