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Back on the field

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By Dwane Wilder

Chris Johnson hadn’t been on a football field in nearly four years, and it showed.

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While playing Saturday for the unbeaten Knoxville Knights — a minor league team that competes in the Alliance League — the former star running back for Campbell County High School admittedly didn’t live up to his usual high expectations.

Johnson’s best work came on special teams, where he delivered a couple of devastating hits on opposing ball carriers to help his team pin a 39-0 defeat on the Frankfort (Ky.) Falcons.

“It’s kind of hard to get back into my high school rhythm,” said Johnson.

“I don’t know if it was the heat or what, but I was drained physically.”

Johnson is one of five former Campbell County standouts who have resurrected their football careers with the Knights. Zack Byrge, a 2004 CCHS grad, is the elder statesman of the group. He punts and plays fullback.

Mitchell Tipton, a starter at outside linebacker, played on Campbell County’s first playoff team in 2004 along with Johnson and Travis Leach.

Leach plays defense and special teams. Josh Howard also plays for the Knights as a running back.

Tipton and Byrge tried out for the team after hearing that Johnson, Leach and Howard had each landed a spot on the Knights’ roster.

“I’m hoping this will take me to the next level, maybe arena football,” said Tipton, who has added 20 lbs. to his 6-foot-1 frame since high school.

“I work out four or five days a week, and I’m in decent shape. I’m a little bigger and a little faster than I used to be.”

At 5-foot-11 and 200 lbs., Johnson has put on 25 lbs. since he’s been out of school. Only 22 years old, he is exploring the possibility of getting into college somewhere.

“I’m slowly working my way onto the defense,” said Johnson, who pours concrete during the week to put food on the table.

“There’s so many stars on offense that I’d rather play defense. We’ve got five running backs and five fullbacks. That’s how much talent we’ve got on this team.”

One of those running backs is Carl Stewart, a former prep standout at Maryville that played in the same backfield with Cadillac Williams at Auburn University. Stewart ran for a touchdown in the win over Frankfort.

The Knights are currently 3-0 after crushing the Hopkinsville Marauders, 63-3; and the Tennessee Rampage, 40-12, in their first two games.

The Knights hosted last weekend’s game at Jacksboro — which have adopted as their home field this season — and will face the Clarksville Vipers there on Saturday at 7 p.m.

That’s just fine and dandy with Tipton.

“I hadn’t played on (Jacksboro’s field) since middle school,” he said.

“It’s really fun playing on that field again.”