Hunter Johnson’s passion for football began at an early age and was sparked by a man who served as an inspiration for many people.
As a young child, Johnson said he and his grandfather, the late James Arnold “Hoot” Johnson, would stay up late Saturdays and then stay together all day on Sundays watching football.
Johnson began playing peewee football in fourth grade, and Hoot was always there to cheer him on until passing away in September 2008. Hoot lost both legs and an arm in an electrical accident in 1970, but he didn’t let it keep him down, a lesson Hunter carries with him.
“The last two years, I’ve been playing for him,” Johnson said. “He’s been my inspiration to go the extra mile or the extra inch and just work as hard as I can because of all the stuff he did in life.”
Hunter has surely done his grandfather proud.
Terry Crawford recently completed his 13th year coaching at Abbott and said Johnson’s passion for the game is what makes him a special player.
“When Hunter comes to the field, whether it’s a practice or a game, you’re going to get 100 percent all the time,” Crawford said. “He leads by example more than he does vocally, and that’s a good thing. He’s a good one for the young kids to look up to and say, ‘This is how you practice and this is how you play, with this kind of energy and this kind of effort.’ If we can get them all to play like that, we’ll have a successful run for a long time.”
It’s that inspired play, combined with spectacular athletic ability, that earned Johnson his second straight nod as the Super Centex Six-Man Player of the Year.
He’s the first player ever to win the award in back-to-back seasons and the fourth Abbott Panther to claim the honor in the last five seasons.
Johnson was a one-man wrecking crew on both sides of the ball, rushing for 1,862 yards and 37 touchdowns while racking up 122 tackles and an amazing 32.5 tackles for loss on defense. He also forced six fumbles, recovered eight and intercepted three passes.
“Athletic-wise, he’s the best player I’ve coached on both sides of the ball,” Crawford said. “I may have had a better offensive player or a better defensive player, but the complete package, he’s the best I’ve ever had.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Johnson’s value might have shown the most when he wasn’t able to play his best.
Johnson hurt a knee in Abbott’s first playoff game against Trinidad, wore a brace and was taped up for its state quarterfinal contest against Calvert. He scored a 35-yard touchdown to help the Panthers take a 30-14 lead into halftime.
Johnson was reinjured in that half on a cut block that ripped the tape. Abbott’s trainer retaped the knee at halftime, but Crawford said Johnson wasn’t able to move laterally in the second half.
Abbott coach Terry Crawford describes two-time Super Centex Player of the Year Hunter Johnson as "the best player I've ever coached." (Rod Aydelotte photo)
Calvert took advantage, outscoring Abbott 42-6 after halftime to move on and end the Panthers’ season — and Johnson’s career.
Though the Panthers fell one step shy of last year’s semifinal run, it was still quite a season. Abbott started the year with a loss and later dropped a 31-30 decision to Penelope.
But the Panthers see that Penelope loss as a turning point, as they made some changes and ran off eight straight wins before falling to Calvert.
“I think this year we came in a little bit too big-headed, thinking we went to the semifinals last year and that it was going to be the same thing,” Johnson said. “Playing Penelope, when they beat us, it opened our eyes that we weren’t as good as we thought we were, and so we rededicated ourselves. I think we got the most we could after this season.”
Just like last year, when Johnson edged three teammates to claim the award, his toughest competition might have come from another player in his own backfield.
Abbott’s Bryan Price was also a two-way star, running for nearly 1,000 yards and returning four of his five interceptions for touchdowns.
Penelope’s Keith Williams was also a candidate after churning out 1,731 yards and 50 touchdowns to lead the Wolverines to an undefeated regular season and the school’s first-ever playoff win, while Iredell’s Brady Lee, Milford’s Jamie Johnson, Parkview’s Bryce Frazier and Walnut Springs’ Eddie Whitt were all integral to their teams’ success.
“We have a bunch of excellent players in the area,” Johnson said. “You’ve got Bryan Price from my team and Keith Williams from Penelope. There are a lot of good Central Texas players, so it’s just an honor to win it two years in a row.”
Coach of the Year: Corey McAdams, Penelope
Just three seasons ago, Penelope had never experienced so much as a winning season.
This year, the Wolverines won every game in the regular season to claim the school’s first district championship and followed that up with the school’s first playoff victory, a 40-38 thriller over Milford.
“Winning a playoff game is as good as anything we’ve ever done,” Penelope coach Corey McAdams said. “It was a fantastic night, and it was a lot of fun. It’s great to see the work you and the players have done finally bear some fruit.”
For continuing to take Penelope to new heights, McAdams has been named the Super Centex Six-man Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons.
The Wolverines found themselves trailing Milford on three occasions in the second half, but came back each time.
And when defensive lineman Jayson Williams pounced on a Bulldog fumble late in the fourth quarter, the Wolverine sideline erupted in celebration of yet another milestone for the program.
While the Milford win was the biggest in Penelope’s short football history, it was a 31-30 victory over Abbott earlier in the season that paved the way for an undefeated regular season.
“We felt this was a special group of kids, and we thought they were going to push things further than they’ve ever been,” McAdams said. To me an undefeated season is not a goal that you shoot for, but one of outcomes when you work hard and do things the right way. . . . I think the Abbott win made us believe we were really that good. Up till that point they were a little uncertain, and that game set us up to take off.”
McAdams edged Abbott coach Terry Crawford, who led the Panthers to the state quarterfinals despite losing eight seniors from the 2008 squad, and Walnut Springs coach Tim Trotter, who guided the Hornets to their second straight state semifinal.
SUPER CENTEX 6-MAN FOOTBALL TEAM
|LB||Kody Stack||Jr||5-10||162||Walnut Springs|
|QB||Eddie Whitt||Sr||5-9||175||Walnut Springs|
Player of the Year: Hunter Johnson, Abbott
Coach of the Year: Corey McAdams, Penelope
Chris Rodgers, Bryan Schneider and Joe Beard, Abbott
Ryan Wilson and Manuel Vergara, Iredell
Adrian Pendleton, Rolando Vega and Ethan Burk, Milford
Johnathan Stack, Jacob White, Ryan Engelhardt, Matthew Prescher and Mario Ballesteros, Walnut Springs