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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Bluffton running back Everett Johnson, who has five TDs already, credits the Tigers’ offensive line for their 2-0 start.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Bluffton's #34 Everett Johnson, right, during a 7 on 7 drill at football practice at Bluffton High School on Tuesday.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Bluffton's #34 Everett Johnson, right, during a drill at football practice at Bluffton High School on Tuesday.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Bluffton's #34 Everett Johnson, center, during a drill at football practice at Bluffton High School on Tuesday.

Friday, August 31, 2018 1:00 am

High School Football: Week 3

Special year brewing at Bluffton

Senior running back credits off-season work, offensive line

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

BLUFFTON – Something feels different in Bluffton this year. 

It wasn't just winning the season opener over Northfield for the first time since 2013, although that was plenty exciting. Senior running back Everett Johnson said he knew coming into the season that the Tigers would benefit from a team full of experienced seniors, especially on the offensive line. He and his fellow captain, center Nicholas Sprankles, were encouraged by the number of players coming to the weight room all through the off-season, and the way the team really seemed to be settling into a rhythm under second-year coach Brent Kunkel.

They've noticed more kids and parents wearing Bluffton football gear around town, and the way fans have turned out for their first two games, both wins.

“The Manchester game, I think there were more students in our student section than there was theirs, and it was an hour away,” Johnson said.

Another reason to get excited (or, perhaps, another indication that Bluffton already is): Johnson won The Journal Gazette's Reader's Choice player-of-the-week vote in each of the first two weeks of the season. 

“It's because Bluffton is so tight-knit,” Johnson said modestly. “Everyone votes, and it's kind of nice. I think that's why. Everybody gets involved.”

Of course, Johnson has given his community a good reason to go to the polls. He scored three touchdowns against Northfield in a 40-12 win, gaining 170 rushing yards. He followed that up with two touchdowns and 198 yards against Manchester in a 36-21 win. 

It's the sort of performance the Tigers have not seen much of in recent years. The seniors were still in junior high in 2013, the last time Bluffton started 2-0. The Tigers last finished with a .500 record in 2012, and haven't had a winning season since 2003, when they went 6-5. With a history like that, the possibility of a sectional title is worth getting very excited about. (The Tigers have claimed just one sectional title, in 1988.)

But as far as Johnson is concerned, any of the team's accomplishments will start with his offensive line.

“They're big. They all have experience. They communicate well,” Johnson said. “Without them, I wouldn't have been able to do anything.”

When pressed, Johnson said he is adept at breaking out of tackles, and admitted “I make good cuts every once in a while.”

His co-captain was more effusive. 

“He's one of the hardest hitters I've ever played against or played with,” Sprankles said. “Our O-line's usually pretty good, but there are some times when it falls apart. And he's usually pretty good at either finding a hole or getting around blitzing backers to pick up the yards.”

Kunkel agreed that Johnson has found success even when plays do not work out as they were drawn up. 

“We've done a good job these first couple weeks putting him in position to make some plays, but he's done some things where it's been a bad play call, and he's made it look good,” Kunkel said. “And that's a credit to him, his work ethic, but also our five guys up front. Someone's got to block for this kid to gain 400 yards in two games.”

But the road for Johnson and the Tigers gets tougher from here. They play at South Adams, which is also 2-0 and ranked eighth in the Class A coaches' poll, today.  

“We feel like we were probably better than the teams we played the first two weeks, not to take anything away from those two programs,” Kunkel said.

“Now it's time for us to win a game as a program that we're not going to be picked to win.”

vjacobsen@jg.net