KENTWOOD - It had been almost a year since high school football fans had seen Ronald Johnson touch the football. And when he received a handful of chances last Friday night against East Kentwood, he put forth a memorable performance, perhaps a legendary one.
Johnson, who may very well be the best player in the best in-state recruiting class in the history of the state, had four touchdowns in Muskegon's 49-14 victory over East Kentwood.
One week after not touching the ball in an opening-game victory over Grand Rapids Creston, Johnson scored almost every time he touched the ball against East Kentwood, including:
Two TD receptions of 82 and 69 yards. (more video links below).
And a 39-yard punt return for a TD.
He had five catches for 176 yards on the night.
"Last week, I couldn't touch the ball but I understand why I couldn't," Johnson said. "I had to come out and let them know that I've still got it. It was pretty fun. Every week, I try to take it slow."
Johnson was lost for the year in week four of the 2005 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. After months of exhaustive rehabilitation, Johnson made it clear against East Kentwood that he is as explosive as ever, maybe more so.
"He was dazzling," said Muskegon coach Tony Annese. "He's just a complete player. You saw him return a punt for a touchdown and catch a couple of touchdown passes and get a toss sweep for a touchdown. He can go sideways as fast as he can go forward. He's just an elusive athlete."
Opponents rarely throw in Johnson's direction, so he only occasionally gets to show the terrific lateral movement and burst on defense that led Rivals.com to list him as the No. 2 defensive back in the country.
On offense, when he gets the ball, that's when the show starts. His ability to change direction, change speeds, cut back and leave opponents grasping at air left little doubt that this is one highly-touted player who deserves the heavy accolades.
However, he isn't interested in attention. In fact, he politely declined to do television interviews following the game so that more of his teammates could receive publicity.
"It's not an individual sport," he told the Muskegon Chronicle prior to the season. "I don't like all of this focus on me."
"He doesn't really enjoy the limelight," Annese said following Friday's game. "He gets kind of tired of it, so we are trying to deescalate it a little bit and just be together as a team."
There is no question that Johnson is a special one. However, the team-oriented tradition of Muskegon High, which is the state's leader in all-time victories, has helped keep him grounded.
"He is a good football player but he is a great teammate too and that's what I really respect about him," Annese said. "He made some great plays but there are 10 on the field besides him and that's our nature."
Johnson was supportive of teammates during mop-up action, showing more emotion when second-string players did something well than when he scored. And one of his biggest smiles of the night came when he shook hands and hugged Jason Ruud, a former teammate who has since moved on to Hope College to play baseball.
"If you didn't know who he was you wouldn't know he was a player who gets all of the limelight," Annese said. "He's a guy who just wants to be one of the kids."
Johnson slithered and sprinted around the field like Deion Sanders, but without being cocky. Johnson was extremely respectful of his opponents.
"If he was in the locker room with Kentwood right now, they would all love him," Annese said. "He's just a great-natured kid."
Ask Johnson about his 86-yard run, and he credits the blocking more than his blazing speed.
"I have to thank my o-line because they were blocking their tails off," he said. "I saw Marcus Sandifer and Carlin (Landingham) and all of them making good blocks."
"I saw everybody rushing to the left side, so I cut back," he said.
As for the punt return, East Kentwood showed guts and gamesmanship just to punt it to Johnson. By that time, Muskegon was already in blowout mode. And there was sincere doubt as to whether anyone could tackle Johnson in the open field.
But East Kentwood wanted another crack at him.
Johnson fielded the punt, and coasted, and waited, made a cut, eluded some tackles, put on a burst and sailed down the sideline for another TD, leaving fans, reporters and coaches shaking their heads. He had done it again.
"I had to take it slow to let the play develop and make sure I did what I had to do to get the seam," he said.
THE RECRUITING GAME
For a guy who tries to deflect attention to his teammates, it's no surprise that Johnson is even more uncomfortable talking about personal recruiting developments at a time when he is trying to help his team make a run at conference and state championships.
Michigan and Michigan State are regarded as prime contenders, based on unofficial trips he has made to both schools. Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC have also mentioned as being on the radar.
Johnson visited Michigan State for its spring game in April, and also stopped in during summer football camp. He was in Ann Arbor last weekend for Michigan's opening game against Vanderbilt. Johnson plans to watch college games in person on most Saturdays, and keep details to himself.
"I try to focus more on football and my Friday nights instead of going to Rivals (.com) and stuff like that," he said.
He said it is gratifying to perform well and gain compliments from college recruiters just a year after a serious injury.
"It's pretty good; I can't complain about it," he said.
As for favorite schools, he said: "At this moment, I don't really know. But I'll probably have that done during the middle of the season or after it."
In the meantime, there will likely be more legendary performances to enjoy.
VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS:
Johnson makes a catch on a crossing route. He lines up wide to the right and makes a leaping catch.
Johnson gets a great jam on an East Kentwood WR. You want physical play from a guy who can fly? The 6-foot, 185-pound Johnson delivers. He has the strength to control the man while finding the ball, and then disengage with a de-cleater, and then no trash talk.
Johnson in press coverage. He turns and runs with his man at a comfortable pace. His speed allows him to turn and look for the ball early in the route. The ball doesn't come his way. Johnson congratulates the opponent on a good route after the play.
Johnson in coverage: The ball doesn't come his way, but Johnson has no problem going from a standstill to a comfortable cruising speed (for him) in staying with his man after an in cut.
Johnson plays run support: Johnson shows excellent technique while the man he jams tries to block him. He jams, gains control, finds the ball and disengages, showing football I.Q., strength and urgency to get to the ball. Watch Johnson's two-step burst after he disengages. He doesn't get a clean hit on the ball carrier, but the fact that he closed so quickly caused the ball carrier to change direction without success.
(Video by Jim Comparoni).
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For more Johnson highlights from different angles, go to WZZM's web site: