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Jellico football player gets second chance

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By Dwane Wilder

Having something valuable suddenly taken away often makes one appreciate it all the more.

Such has been the plight of Jellico High School linebacker Brent Johnson, who missed his entire senior season because of an injury.

Two days before the 2008 season opener against Oakdale, the Blue Devils’ six-foot, 220 lb. defensive captain blew out a knee during practice. Three weeks later, he underwent surgery to repair a ruptured ACL and MCL. While his teammates played on without him, Johnson worked hard to rehab his knee and get back into playing shape.

“It was very tough to cope with, especially not knowing if I would be able to take the field again,” said Johnson.

“With hindsight, I believe it was a good thing because it improved my work ethic and made me appreciate being able to play. I’ll be happy to practice now.”

Come August, Johnson will be practicing for a new team. Last Tuesday (March 10), he accepted a scholarship offer to play football for the University of the Cumberlands at nearby Williamsburg, Ky. He plans to pursue a degree in pre-medicine, majoring in anesthesiology, with a minor in fitness training.

“We’re very pleased in getting Brent signed,” said UC Defensive Coordinator Michael Collins.

“I know he didn’t get to play his senior season because of an injury, but we’re hoping he’s going to work through that. He’s got good character. We think he’s as good a young man as he is a football player.”

Johnson is well familiar with the UC campus. His sister Katie plays volleyball for the Lady Patriots, and since January he has been enrolled in college algebra and world history as part of a dual credit curriculum. Dustin Buckner, a former high school teammate of Johnson, also plays football for the Patriots.

Even with all those connections, getting the attention of UC’s football coaches took a bit of ingenuity on the part of Johnson and his dad. With no statistics or film to show from his senior campaign, Johnson and his dad did the next best thing. They put together a highlight reel of his junior year when he had a team-high 92 tackles and led the Blue Devils to a winning season.

“Brent’s just got a knack for finding the football,” said his high school coach Danny Oakes.

“He gets off blocks real well. He’s going to have to improve his speed, and he knows that. But his grades are excellent.”

Johnson, who has a grade point average somewhere between 3.7 and 3.8, scored 26 on the ACT, which is well above the standard of 18 for freshman eligibility.

After losing 13 seniors off a team that won consecutive Mid-South Conference Eastern Division championships, advanced to the second round of the NAIA playoffs and ranked sixth nationally at the end of the season, the Patriots will be looking to shore up their ranks this fall with new recruits. Johnson wants to make sure he gets off on the right foot with his college coaches.

During the off-season, he increased his bench press to 345 and his time in the 40-yard dash to just less than five second flat.

Johnson said UC recruited him to play middle linebacker, which is the position he played in high school. However, he could see limited action at tight end or fullback.

“There’s not many times when you have a kid that didn’t play a down his senior year and get anybody to take a chance on him,” said Oakes.

“But Cumberlands did, and they’ve got an excellent football program.”