Bret Johnson charted a course to become a major college college quarterback a long time ago. And as he became one of the country's best high school quarterbacks, that goal came ever nearer this fall.
He was recruited by practically every major football school and has narrowed his choices to UCLA, Arizona State, USC, Norte Dame and Penn State.
Yet, there was a time on the night of Sept. 17 when his coach and father Bob Johnson wondered whether his son's collegiate future would come to be.
With less than a minute left in the Chargers' game against Fountain Valley, Johnson was sacked and suffered an injury to his right knee.
"That night I couldn't help but think how hard Bret had worked and the future he had beyond high school," Bob Johnson said. "I said Whoa! We didn't even know how serious the injury was."
It turned out to be strained ligaments--serious enough to require arthroscopic surgery and keep Johnson out of four games.
But other than that, the injury has been nothing more than a slight interruption in his career plans.
Johnson, The Times' player of the week, returned to lead the Chargers to their second consecutive Southern Conference championship. In the final against Los Alamitos Saturday night, he completed 10 of 15 passes for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns, as El Toro won, 36-6.
"The knee swelled up pretty good that first night, but I knew I wasn't going to be out too long," Johnson said. "It was just a little obstacle for me and the team to overcome."
Although Bob Johnson was concerned, he knew his son was in capable hands.
Dr. Mark Legome, who performed the surgery, has been the Chargers' team doctor for 14 years.
"He takes a real personal interest in our program," Johnson said. "He's known Bret since he was a water boy for the team. Mark even traveled with us when we played in Pennsylvania (last season)."
The surgery revealed no damage other than the strained ligaments. Johnson began rehabilitation under the direction of Larry Taylor, a physical therapist in Mission Viejo.
Taylor put him on a rigid program designed to strengthen the knee. For four weeks, Johnson worked out on stationary bicycles and treadmills, until the knee was again 100%.
"Larry basically lived with Bret for four weeks," Bob said. "And Bret still goes there three days a week to work out."
If there was a positive side to the injury, Bret thinks it has made him less reckless as a runner.
He no longer scrambles out of the pocket to gain yardage. Instead, he will search longer for an open receiver.
"I used to scramble forward, trying to pick up eight or nine yards," Johnson said. "Now I scramble backward, throw it long and hope for something good to happen."
Still, when the need arises, Johnson still is aggressive.
In the final regular-season game against Irvine, Johnson completed a 10-yard pass to fullback David Nemeth, who was immediately hit and fumbled. Johnson raced up field and dived on the loose ball.
Johnson's effort got him buried beneath two Irvine linebackers.
"Even before he (Nemeth) got hit, I was running up field," Johnson said. "I knew he was going to get hit hard and that the ball was going to come out."
Yet, Johnson didn't think about his knee during the play.
"I can still take a hit," he said.
El Toro High School
Height, Weight, Class: 6-1, 175, Sr.
Last Week: Johnson completed 10 of 15 passes for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns in El Toro's 36-6 victory over Los Alamitos in the Southern Conference final.
Season: Johnson completed 135 of 229 passes for 2,088 yards and 24 touchdowns, despite missing 4 games.