Jeremiah Johnson was selected as a team captain for the Rudder football team before the season, but Rangers coach Eric Ezar said he wouldn’t have foreseen Johnson taking on that role two years ago.
Maturity and hard work have turned Johnson from a slim, wiry sophomore into a strong, steady senior who has proven to be a pass-rushing force for Rudder this fall.
“[Johnson] brings a lot of energy every day. He’s really worked on his leadership skills,” Ezar said. “He’s really grown up in the last two years and when he talks, people listen. He’s kind of the emotional guy that’s gotten us going on defense.”
Through five games, Johnson has 37 tackles, including seven for loss, three sacks and nine hurries. In Rudder’s win over Elgin on Sept. 10, Johnson recovered a fumble and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.
Johnson says playing multiple positions in basketball helped him improve his footwork. On the gridiron, he plays stand-up defensive end but has the ability to drop back into coverage.
“Playing basketball and being good and crafty on the court, it helps with quickness and agility, especially good hips,” Johnson said. “It helps a lot when I’m 6-4 and I’m faster than all of the linemen I go against. I can use my speed and quickness against them.”
Johnson hasn’t always been able to use his size, however. When Ezar took over Rudder in 2019, Johnson boasted a prototypical basketball player frame, weighting around 170 pounds. He’s since added muscle and has peaked at 200.
“He’s really learned how to be a football player and learning his technique and what holes he’s supposed to plug,” Ezar said. “He’s good in coverage. He’s almost the old cartoon of Plastic Man. You think the guy’s running away from him, and these big long arms go out and wrap him up. He’s been really great at that.”
Johnson said he and fellow senior defensive end Devion Howard have been friends since day care. The two have provided a strong tandem up front for the Rangers (5-0, 2-0) this season as Rudder is allowing just 14.2 points per game.
“They have that mentality that we can be one of the best defenses in the district, the region and maybe even the state,” Ezar said. “That means a lot to them, and they want to show everybody how good we are.”
The Ranger defense will be tested Friday at Montgomery. The Bears (5-0, 1-0) are averaging 41.8 points per game and led by senior quarterback Brock Bolfing, who is completing 68.8% of his passes. Running back Jalen Washington also has rushed for 781 yards and nine touchdowns.
“They are a good football team, but we’re a good football team,” Johnson said. “I have faith in my team that if we go out there and we don’t listen to the hype, we don’t let these wins let us get big headed, that we stay focused and we play our keys right then we can go home [6-0].”
NOTES — Bolfing is the son of Bears coach John Bolfing. Rudder coach Eric Ezar, father of Rangers senior quarterback EJ Ezar, said their two sons have been playing each other in football since middle school when the Ezars lived in Willis. Ezar said he had a Facebook notification pop up on his phone earlier this week of a picture of the two sons facing each other five years ago. “It was just funny to see here we are this week and this pops up on your Facebook memories,” Ezar said. “I have a lot of respect for Coach Bolfing and his program. It’s very similar to what me and EJ are going through.”