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PREP FOOTBALL '98 / GOLDEN WEST LEAGUE

Strong Work Ethic Gives Johnson an Edge

Tustin nose guard, who led his team into the Division V final in 1997, is hoping for similar success this season.

September 08, 1998|MELANIE NEFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nose guard is probably the most unheralded position in football. Kids don't grow up dreaming about being the next starting nose guard for the Green Bay Packers. In fact, most probably couldn't name an NFL nose guard.

It's a position most players just fall into. Their speed, or lack of it and their size, too much of it, usually has a bearing on earning that job.

Tustin nose guard Derek Johnson says there are only two reasons why a player ends up in the middle of the line face to face with the center.

"First of all, you've got to be really slow," Johnson said. "And second, you have to be ugly."

Whatever the reason for getting the job, Johnson, 6-2 and 240 pounds, took it on and earned a Times all-county second-team selection as a junior last season and helped lead his team to the Southern Section Division V finals.

Johnson, who has started on both sides of the ball since his sophomore year, is a workhorse, according to Tustin Coach Myron Miller. In fact, during a recent practice in the sweltering heat, he refused to ease up during practice and became ill.

"The other guys on the team bring it back a level when it gets tough. Not him," Miller said. "He goes as hard as he can go. He is a warrior."

That work ethic has earned him the respect of his coach and his teammates. He was the first junior selected as a team captain under Miller's reign. He'll lead the team again this season.

"The kids have the utmost respect for him," Miller said. "He goes out and battles the best there are, as long as the battle lasts."

Johnson says it's just part of playing football.

"It's a pride thing. Football is an emotional game and you have to play with emotion," Johnson said. "Our motto is 'Impose our will, break their hearts.' So I impose my will when I'm working out too."

Off the field, Johnson drops the tough guy routine. He is good student who was selected to attend Boys State, an American Legion Leadership Conference, this summer. He has done this despite the death of his father Steve from a heart attack during Johnson's freshman year.

"It was a really tough freshman year," Johnson said. "And it is still always on my mind. It's always on the back burner."

So much on his mind, that in the team's championship game against Santa Margarita last December, Johnson struggled just to make it through the game.

"He died two years ago on Dec. 14 and our game was on the 13th," Johnson said. "So it was a very emotional game for me. I was really falling apart."

And while it obviously has affected him deeply, Johnson says things like that happen every day to lots of people.

"I only developed that attitude out of necessity," Johnson said. "You have to grow up and move on no matter how hard."

Johnson will take on a new position on offense this season, moving from tackle to tight end. Miller says Tustin tight ends block more than catch the ball, but Johnson is still excited about the prospect of getting his hands on the ball.

"I think I only touched the ball once last year," Johnson said. "I don't expect to see a lot more of it this year, but it would be fun. I think I'm basically just a tackle with a tight end's number."

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