Ask around at Bluffton High School. Everett Johnson was not supposed to be the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue come Sectional final week.
Could Bluffton be in this position? Sure. Was Johnson going to be the catalyst for the Tigers’ best season in more than two and a half decades? That wasn’t the plan. While he has been a valuable asset to the Tigers, Johnson was meant to spend split time running the ball as the power option at 6-foot, 190 pounds. That plan was even a possible plan B after the idea was floated of moving him to play guard on the offensive line.
A year ago, Johnson ran for a meager 143 yards, just 14.3 per game. Heading into the sectional final opposite Bremen this year, he is knocking at the door of the area’s only 2,000 rushing yard season. In a program known for its running prowess, that mark is something special. A year ago, Brandon Lockwood’s 1,500-plus yards was shy of the school record for a single season. Three years ago, highly touted D’Wayne Eskridge put up just over 1,000 yards.
So how did Johnson become the record breaking man that has led led Bluffton to seven wins? According to his head coach Brent Kunkel, Johnson has worked to put himself in a position where they just could never take him off the field to play into the planned split of time.
“His work ethic is what puts him in this position,” Kunkel said. “He is a kid that every coach in the area would want. He is the hardest working kid. It speaks to the kind of kid that Everett is.”
Kunkel notes that in the last two years, Johnson has missed probably just one workout, including during basketball or baseball season. For the senior running back, that is just a natural part of the legacy he would like to leave at Bluffton.
“To show the younger kids how to do things the right way,” Johnson said of that potential legacy.
Johnson likes to keep things simple. His answers reflect the personality that he portrays on the field: all business. He doesn’t bask in his own glow. He wants to practice, he wants to run and he wants to win.
When he passed current defensive coordinator Todd Morgan’s school record 1,615 yards during the opening round of sectional play, he did it with an even temperament. The record was a big deal, even to Johnson. You’d never know that though because Johnson’s game is rarely about Johnson.
“[It meant] a lot,” Johnson says, straight and to the point, about the record. “Its what me and the offensive line have been working for.”
Again, the team comes first.
“I don’t have any magic answer,” Kunkel said. “We have a senior heavy offensive line, which obviously helps. I’m super happy he broke the record, but I am happier that he broke it having the kind of year we are having.”
Sitting at 1,946 yards heading into the sectional final, Johnson has been able to lead his team by example. He is averaging 176.9 yards per game and more importantly 7.9 yards per carry. He has just 41 more carries than Lockwood had last year, but has turned that into 403 more yards in one game more than Lockwood played.
That kind of drive has motivated his team to step up. In their seven wins, Bluffton is averaging 41.3 points per game showcasing the work of players like fellow seniors Gavin King and Blake Kizer.
While he gets after his teammates with his actions, Johnson’s personable nature gets a lot of response too. He will admit that he is more a leader by action than he is verbally. And his actions, according to Kunkel, are those of a kid who knows when to turn the football mindset on and when to turn it off.
“If practice is going rough, Everett is the type of kid that rallies the team together. He is an absolute dream of a player to coach. He does the things he wants your seniors to do and the guys rally around him,” Kunkel said.
The 7-4 Tigers will host Bremen (9-2) in the Class 2A Sectional 34 title game.