A year into his head coaching tenure at London High School, Red Raiders head football coach Kyle Cutler had a pretty good idea of who he had on his roster.
He knew he had a bunch of hard-working kids who were buying into the things he and his coaching staff were selling. He had a promising collection of younger kids lined up in the lower grades who could eventually provide the Raiders high school program with depth and talent.
But what he didn’t know was that he had an All-Central District running back on his roster, who would eventually be named the Division IV Central District Offensive Player of the Year.
Yes, senior Michael Johnson, who just finished the 2015 season with the ninth-highest rushing total in Ohio high school history (2,989 yards) and scored a whopping 28 touchdowns was listed as a wide receiver as late as this past July.
But while he was up late one summer night watching a nature program on the Discovery Channel, Cutler saw a gazelle running away from various predators. With long legs, elusive moves and breakaway speed, the gazelles reminded the coach of the attributes held by his talented but seldom utilized wide out Johnson.
So the coach decided to try the 6-foot, 3-inch, 200-pound speedster at running back and the rest is state football history.
“That’s a true story,” Cutler said. “We had to find a way to get him the ball. He’s a big kid with 4.4 speed and a 40-inch vertical leap. He’s an incredible athlete, who put it all together and had a great season.”
The coach insists it wasn’t just the move from wide receiver to running back that turned Johnson into a success story, he said it was a lot of Johnson growing up as a person.
“I’m an extremely happy for him,” Cutler said of Johnson. “He earned it. It shows that when you work hard and do things the right way it pays off. He matured so much from last year to this year and that really made a difference. He’s just so much more mature now.
“He started to take things more seriously and once he had some success he really took things to another level.”
Johnson’s late bloom opened a lot of eyes, but what it hasn’t done yet is open the door to Division I scholarship offers. Cutler is hoping those will start to come once college teams wrap up their seasons and they start to finish up recruiting classes. The coach said there’s no doubt in his mind Johnson has the ability to play at the next level, it’s just a matter of getting a chance.
“Michael definitely wants to play college football,” Cutler said. “He’s a late bloomer and that’s the difficult part, not a lot of people have seen him play.
“If he continues to believe in himself he will be successful. He has all the physical attributes to succeed. We all knew he was fast, but I’m not sure we knew how strong he was. College football is a different ball game, but he’ll go as far as he wants to go.”
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU