Wildcat baseball standout John Johnson shined like a diamond during July’s Georgia Recreation and Park Association (GRPA) tournament. His coaches consider Johnson’s performance a crucial part of being able to place in the top three of the state tourney. For this, Johnson is named the July Bryan County Athlete of the Month.
"He played third base in every GRPA game and couldn’t have done a better job," summer Wildcat head coach Sean Strickland said. "We haven’t had a third baseman laying out on their chest making plays as long as I can remember – and John consistently did that this summer. Every time John made a play, it brought our entire coaching staff to their feet. That’s how great his plays were."
Johnson’s superior summer efforts were not limited to the third baseman position.
"As if his defensive excellence wasn’t enough, John was outstanding at the plate," Strickland said. "He had two doubles and a triple in four games, not to mention four singles. He did it on defense, he did it on offense and he showed us a lot of leadership qualities in the dugout. He’s very vocal and very animated with his teammates. He was that sparkplug that kept us going and pushing us along through the tournament."
Johnson said he saw improvement in the team as a whole throughout summer play.
"It gives me a good feeling about the upcoming regular season," Johnson said. "It’s an honor to receive this award, and I couldn’t have gotten it without my teammates. It’s a team effort out there. I also want to thank Coach Strickland who has helped me physically develop and Coach (Mitchell) Curry who has helped me develop mentally."
Perhaps it is Johnson’s passion for the sport that has driven him to succeed on the baseball field. He said he holds the game of baseball in very high regard.
"It’s not life, but it’s the closest thing to it," Johnson said. "I wouldn’t feel like I had anything without it. God, family, school, baseball – that’s pretty much it. Without baseball, there would definitely be an emptiness in my life."
"He not only plays constantly, but he watches it on television every night," said his father and incoming Board of Education member Charlie Johnson. "He even spends time with the younger kids in the neighborhood, teaching them the game. In the last two years, I’ve seen him mature as a player both physically and mentally. He thinks through the game and looks at the strategy as much as just getting up and hitting the baseball."Johnson started playing baseball in the rec fields in Virginia at the tender age of three and has consistently played year-round ball since. Having a dad in the military, Johnson also played rec ball in Alabama and Hawaii before making his Richmond Hill Middle School debut in the eighth grade.
Johnson’s stats on the Richmond Hill High School team speak for themselves.
On top of a near-1,000 fielding percentage, he has a career 400-plus batting average going into his senior year.
"We don’t have any players in recent years that have done that," said Strickland, who is also the regular season assistant coach.
Johnson hit 500 his freshman year, 420 his sophomore year and more than 400 last year, Strickland said.
"That’s consistency, and it’s a testament to his work ethic," he said. "He hit his first home run last year and we saw more doubles and triples, so he’s definitely gotten more powerful. We’re looking forward to some great things from John this year."
Strickland said Johnson has worked hard for every achievement that has come his way.
"The title ‘hard worker’ doesn’t do him justice. He takes it to another level," Strickland said.
"He’s a perfectionist, but in a good way. Baseball is his craft and he dedicates everything within himself to it. He works out harder than just about any other player I’ve ever had," he continued. "You never have to question if John is going to give 100 percent in practice – it’s a given. He’s a joy to coach and a true student of the game."
Strickland also noted Johnson is capable of hitting anywhere in the lineup and can play any position, "which is what you want as a coach."
By all accounts, Johnson’s attributes extend beyond the baseball diamond.
"Everything is ‘yes sir, no sir’ with John, which says a lot about his character," Strickland noted. "He’s very low key and doesn’t carry a lot of bravado behind him. To watch him play is to see a great ball player, but he’s not boastful."
Charlie Johnson said his son always pulls for the underdog.
"If a teammate is in a batting slump, he’s his biggest fan in the dugout – telling them to keep their chin up and motivating them. He likes to see everyone succeed. He has an incredible work ethic. He realizes that, at 5 feet, 7 inches, he has to work twice as hard to be looked at than if he were taller. He wants to play college baseball and he knows what it takes."
Johnson’s high academic GPA should only help him in his quest to land a spot on a college team. He also has plans to pursue a career as an engineer.
"I would love to play college baseball," Johnson said. "There would be nothing better for me than to tell my son one day that I played college baseball. That’s been my goal for as far back as I can remember."
For a photographic history of all past winners of the Bryan County Athlete of the Month award, click here: http://community.bryancountynews.net/gallery/detail/67/