DADE CITY — Malik Johns was focusing on baseball, but things changed.
“I was a baseball player — I’m still a baseball player,” the speedy 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior receiver, defensive back and return man said. “I realized I had a future in football after a while. … This season has been going well so far, but you’ve got to stay humble and be good to your team and the guys you play with.”
As Pasco High (2-1, 0-0) hosts Class 5A-6 foe Brooksville Nature Coast (1-2, 1-0) tonight at 7 at W.F. Edwards Stadium, Johns has come a long way from outfielder to Division-I prospect, with offers from FAU, Presbyterian, Samford, Appalachian State, UMass and Western Kentucky. He has even garnered interest from Auburn and West Virginia, which is impressive since, for the past couple of years, a player such as Johns, who has 609 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns, might have been overshadowed.
“He probably has been (overshadowed),” Pirates coach Tom McHugh said. “When you have guys like David (Emmanuel) and Janarion (Grant), then to come in as a sophomore (when those two are already established), that will happen, then it’s his senior year and (the responsibility) gets dumped on him.”
McHugh also thinks that Johns had to learn quickly — last season and earlier this season — that he was now the team’s go-to player.
“I think it was thrust upon him, last year when Janarion got hurt and this year just from being a senior,” McHugh added. “It took him a couple of games to figure it out that Janarion’s not here — someone’s got to do it.”
Since the stumble, and loss, Pasco took in Week 1 at Sunlake, Johns has settled into more of a playmaker role, especially as he scored four times against Wesley Chapel two weeks ago.
“When I was younger, I was in a bunch with big names, guys like Janarion and David,” Johns said. “They were great, but everyone had to do their part so they could score, so we did it as a team. But now, as a senior, I know I have to do my part and my job, which, with guys like Nate Craig and Philip Wilson and Lane (Stancil) is to step up and be the leaders.”
Since Week 1, Johns has also been playing less in the secondary and focusing more on his offensive prowess — which is his speed and vision, McHugh says — and his return game, in which he has two kickoff returns for scores (95, 90), plus 129 yards on five punt returns. But the Pirates have also been using him on a pullcat 2-point conversion run, which Johns has converted four times, giving him a team-high 46 points scored.
“He’s an excellent athlete,” McHugh said. “He could do well at any sport, could run track, and has become very good at football.”
And key for Johns, as Pasco heads into its six-game district schedule that include hosting Citrus South Sumter next Friday and traveling to Brooksville Hernando on Oct. 18, will keeping things the same now that they’ve changed for the better.
“I never thought of it as overlooking us, but when you have guys like Janarion and David, who scored every time they touched the ball, it happens,” Johns said. “They did their part, now I’m doing mine.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.