LAND O’ LAKES — Someone give Nathan Johnson a college football offer.
What else does the 5-foot-9, 205-pound senior wrecking ball have to do after rushing for 1,504 yards and 16 touchdowns to help lead the Seahawks to a 9-2 record in 2013?
“I’m a little dumbfounded he doesn’t have any offers, to be honest,” said coach Bill Browning, the father of Sunlake football. “Is he a 4.3 (second) 40 (yard dash) guy? No, but is he a football player? Yes, he is.”
Not to say there isn’t collegiate interest in Johnson, as Browning says Division I and I-AA teams have inquired. But when backs just as productive (Ridgewood’s Glass Wilson and Zephyrhills’ Jaylen Pickett) have offers, it is puzzling to Browning why a player such as Johnson lacks even one.
“It bothers me a bit, but I’m not worried about it,” Johnson said. “A lot of coaches say to keep at it, so I’m just going to work hard, stay humble and it will happen. … I’m happy for those who have theirs — I’m waiting for mine, so (I’ll) keep grinding and trusting in God.”
Johnson is even more vital to Sunlake’s success — and a return to the postseason — since the team lost 22 seniors, including nine starters on the county’s best defense. However, the offensive line looks strong, meaning Johnson has a legitimate goal in mind.
“I think 2,000 (yards) is obtainable,” Johnson said. “The real goal is make it back to the playoffs and where we were last year, but if I get those yards, I’m going to take them.”
This season, leadership is of the utmost importance to Johnson, especially as one of the seniors and main playmaker. Johnson realizes, like every year at Sunlake, there are numerous young players looking to be led.
“I have to grind and be a leader out there,” Johnson said. “Every year we’ve lost a lot and filled the spots. We’ve done just a good or better than previously. As one of the (24) seniors, it’s my job.”
After Nathan Johnson’s breakout year, the Seahawks will hand him the ball again, with senior quarterback Dayton Feiden calling the plays. Coach Bill Browning said he wants more parity on offense, and Feiden has shown he can pass. Receiver Nick Valdes had a great spring and summer and should be another weapon on the line of scrimmage.
The county’s top defense (allowing only 78 points in 2013) lost nine of its 11 starters, but returning will be Austin Yeloushan (83 tackles, 7 sacks) and Logan Wolfe (26 tackles, 1.5 sacks). Browning and his staff have worked hard to replace the other nine starters, something the pgogram has had to do every season following large senior turnover.
Sunlake is again a viable contender in Class 6A-District 6, but it will have to get past Spring Hill Springstead (the lone regular-season loss) and intown rival Land O’ Lakes, which hosts the Seahawks this season. The Seahawks have the talent, offensive weapons, experience and coaching to return to the playoffs. But with a practically new defense, question marks still arise.
♦ About The Seahawks
Stadium: Seahawks Stadium, 3023 Sunlake Blvd., Land O’ Lakes
Class-District: 6A-6 (with Fivay, Land O’ Lakes, Mitchell and Spring Hill Springstead)
Coach: Bill Browning (40-33, eighth season)
Last season: 9-2
Aug. 29: at Pasco
Sept. 5: River Ridge
Sept. 12: at Anclote
Sept. 19: Spring Hill Springstead
Sept. 26: Ridgewood
Oct. 3: at Mitchell
Oct. 10: at Wesley Chapel
Oct. 17: at Land O’ Lakes
Oct. 31: Fivay
Nov. 7: Zephyrhills