Abbott’s Kyle Crawford ought to know a player of the year when he sees one.
Crawford, the son of Abbott football coach Terry Crawford, speaks like a coach and thinks like a coach. So he can analyze the Panthers’ brilliant 2008 campaign like a coach.
When asked about this year’s Super Centex Six-Man Football Team, Crawford, last year’s Player of the Year, made the case for five different Panthers to garner the team’s top honor.
Rarely do so many players from the same team draw consideration for this type of award. Crawford realized it would be difficult to pick from a deserving bunch of Panthers.
And it was — but Crawford can see the reasons for the pick.
Abbott junior Hunter Johnson, who rushed for 1,231 yards and 21 TDs, made 81 stops on defense, forced five fumbles, earned district player of the year honors and made all-region at running back, narrowly edged out his teammates for 2008 Super Centex Player of the Year.
“When Hunter steps on the field you’ve got to know where he’s at,” Kyle Crawford said. “I think that was pretty evident all season. When Hunter gets the ball in his hands he makes plays.”
Johnson is the third Abbott junior in four seasons to earn the top Super Centex player honor. In doing so, he kept Crawford from becoming a repeat winner.
Like his son, Terry Crawford had a hard time separating one player’s achievements from another after Abbott reached the Six-man Division I state semifinals. Johnson dominated in the regular season, which led to him grabbing the district’s top individual honor, the coach said. But Crawford’s play at quarterback drove the Panthers in the playoffs.
When two players competing together are so close, it’s all but impossible to pick one over the other. But consider a sequence of plays in Abbott’s defining win this season — a 38-28 victory over top-ranked Calvert in the regional final.
Johnson sacked Calvert quarterback Jamarcus Ashley on a third-down play, then on the next snap blocked the Trojans’ punt. Two plays later, Johnson burst into the end zone for a six-yard touchdown run that put Abbott ahead for good.
But Johnson conceded that even in his most productive moment, there was more than one Panther that deserved praise.
“When you score a touchdown, when you make a big sack or you block a punt, you have to give the credit to the other people,” Johnson said. “They made the blocks, or drew the blockers and did things like that to make it happen.”
Crawford admitted it would have been a thrill to repeat as Player of the Year. However, he saw the bigger picture that Abbott has established a tradition of having a junior win the honor. Panthers back J.R. Price earned the award as a junior in 2005, followed by Crawford as a junior in 2007.
Perhaps the factor the separated Johnson from his teammates was his motivation.
Johnson is the grandson of longtime devoted Abbott supporter James Arnold “Hoot” Johnson, who died at the age of 61 in September. Hoot Johnson was an inspiration to the entire Abbott team, so much so that the Panthers dedicated their season to his memory.
But Terry Crawford saw an immediate difference in Hunter Johnson’s play after his grandfather’s death.
“You could tell that Hunter was playing for reasons other than himself,” Crawford said. “He was playing to honor his grandfather. That kicks in another gear.”
Johnson said he regretted that the Panthers couldn’t claim the state championship in honor of his grandfather — Abbott fell in the semifinal round against eventual state champion Strawn. But Johnson’s parents and grandmother assured him that his grandfather would’ve been proud of the way the Panthers played throughout 2008.
“Something what kept me going was he had one arm and no legs and his other arm was cut off and how much pain he went through every day just to get up and go to work,” Johnson said about his grandfather. “It just drove me to go one more play harder and another play harder.”
Coach of the Year: Tim Trotter, Walnut Springs
While Abbott was marching to the semifinal round of the Division I playoffs, the Walnut Springs Hornets improved from a 5-5 campaign in 2007 to a 9-4 season that took them to the Six-Man Division II state semifinals this fall.
Hornets coach Tim Trotter, who came back to the school in 2008 after coaching Walnut Springs football from 1995-2004, put in a new offensive system, and the Hornets players excelled.
As a result, Walnut Springs enjoyed one of its best seasons in school history and Trotter earned the Super Centex Coach of the Year award.
Trotter kept his team motivated early in the season despite a 1-3 start. Once the Hornets began to buzz, they won eight straight games, including two playoff victories.
“It took us four or five games before things started clicking,” Trotter said. “The transition was difficult, but the kids never got discouraged. Every game we would execute a little better.”
Trotter and the Hornets took some encouragement from early season losses to six-man powerhouses Richland Springs and Gordon. Though Walnut Springs fell victim to the 45-point mercy rule in both games, the Hornets were pleased to have scored 36 points against Richland Springs and 28 against Gordon.
Walnut Springs’ season culminated in a pair of playoff victories that both came down to defensive plays in the final minute. The Hornets’ defense forced and recovered fumbles in the fourth quarter at the 1-yard line against Sidney and Star to keep going in the playoffs.
“The kids just had the will to win and did what they had to in the moment,” Trotter said.
Trotter’s turnaround earned the coach of the year honor over a worthy group of candidates, including Abbott coach Terry Crawford, who also guided his team to the brink of a state championship game.
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