BROOKLET — Last season, Southeast Bulloch’s opponents got everything they wanted from Jamal Johnson.
In 2011, he’ll be twice the handful.
A mainstay on the Yellow Jackets defensive line last year, Johnson quickly became the most feared player for the opposition. His brute strength helped to clog up running lanes, while his agility and speed allowed him to chase down any ball carrier making a break for the outside.
An even bigger and faster version of Johnson is in store for the new season, where he’ll also be taking his talents to the other side of the ball, lining up at tight end.
Now in his second season at the helm of the SEB program, Pat Collins saw the athleticism in Johnson and wants to capitalize on it both offensively and defensively.
“Jamal is a special talent,” said Collins. “We saw what he could do on defense last season, and this year, he’ll be playing tight end on offense as well. He has the kind of versatility and athleticism that is takes to play well on both sides of the ball and that’s something we want to take advantage of.”
His star power is just now rising after a year of recovery from a serious knee injury sustained during his sophomore season. But even with football activities out of the question for months, Johnson showed the determination that has helped to make him such a dominant force.
“That was a very serious injury that he suffered,” said Collins. “I’m sure he was disappointed to not be able to play, but that didn’t stop his desire to improve.
“He was doing every sort of workout that he was allowed to and was set on getting back to the field. By the time he was cleared by doctors, he was much farther along than they projected him to be.”
Now at full strength, opposing teams will be forced to take note of Johnson — and they aren't the only ones.
This summer, Johnson attended Georgia Southern’s football camp, which was open to prep athletes looking to play at the next level. Johnson showed off his abilities to the Eagles coaching staff and was rewarded for his efforts.
“I was in the middle of a drill when I was told that coach (Jeff) Monken wanted to see me,” said Johnson. “When I sat down with him, he told me that Georgia Southern wanted me to play and I gave him a commitment. I was thrilled.”
Being offered a chance to play college ball may have had his head in the clouds for a few moments, but as SEB began fall practice Monday afternoon, it was clear that Johnson is still focused on the goal at hand.
“It’s nice to have (recruitment) done already,” said Johnson. “Now, it’s all about winning with SEB this season. We want to win our first game, win some region games, and hopefully get back to the playoffs. As a senior, I want to be a leader who can take us there.”
Even though going both ways will mean twice the work, Johnson is jumping at the opportunity.
“I’m really excited,” said Johnson. “I think I’m learning a lot at tight end and can help up score some more points this season. Defensively, I’m moving to the middle of the field at linebacker. That’s going to let me flow to the ball easier, and I really like being in the middle of every play.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.