Growing up, basketball was Davion Johnson’s passion.
“In high school, most of my friends were playing football,” he said.
Coach John Danley said Johnson wanted to play basketball in the ninth grade.
“He was out there running (with the basketball players),” Danley said, “and the next thing I knew he was coming back through those double doors and saying, ‘Coach, I want to stay in the weight room.’”
Three years later, entering the 12th grade at Byhalia High School, Johnson stands 6’5” and weighs 325 pounds. The right tackle has already committed to Ole Miss and last week was named to The Clarion-Ledger’s Dandy Dozen, a list of the top 12 high school football players in the state.
“Coach Danley and Coach Washington (the former head coach at BHS) assured me if I would work hard I could get a scholarship in football, and that’s where I’m headed now,” Johnson said.
Danley, entering his first season as the new head coach of the Indians, said Johnson’s spot in the Dandy Dozen is very deserving.
“He came out in the ninth grade and had never played football a day in his life,” Danley said. “Coach Washington and I talked with him and encouraged him. He was so big. We couldn’t let him go.
“To be at this point, as a senior, shows his dedication to the sport and also how our program at Byhalia has grown. He has worked his tail off.”
In the weight room, he benches 400 pounds and squats 500. Danley called him the “cornerstone” of the Indians’ offense.
“If we need that big yard, I’m not bashful,” the coach said. “The other teams knows it. We’re going to run right behind him.
“As he goes, that’s the way we go up front.”
Last year Andrey Collins rushed for 2,000 yards.
“A lot of his biggest plays came off the counter with Davion (Johnson) pulling and leading him up the field,” Danley said.
The coach also said a once shy Johnson has become a leader on and off the field.
“He’s motivating the other guys,” Danley said. “He became more vocal toward the end of last year.”
Johnson said making the Dandy Dozen is a tremendous honor.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “It gets me more focused going into my senior season.”
Johnson is only the second football player in Marshall County to ever be named to the Dandy Dozen. The other was Holly Springs High School’s Jeremy LeSueur in 1998. LeSueur played at Michigan and then went on to the NFL.
“This is a great accomplishment not just for Byhalia, but for the entire county,” Coach Danley said.
“Davion (Johnson) gives all the other guys hope. They can say, ‘We can do the same thing.’”
Danley said he, coach Shane Stone at Potts Camp and coach James Kimbrough at H.W. Byers are trying to establish strong football programs in the Marshall County School District.
“We want to make it a top sport for our county high schools, and the more success stories we have like this one, the better it is for us all,” Danley said. “He’s the first Dandy Dozen football player (in the county school district), but I don’t believe he will be the last. Once we get the one, it will trickle down.”
Johnson was also the first commitment for Hugh Freeze, the new head coach at Ole Miss.
“I wanted to be his first one,” Johnson said. “The new coaching staff made me feel needed. It’s a family atmosphere with Coach Freeze and his entire staff. I’m looking forward to going to Ole Miss.”
But first comes his last season as an Indian. Byhalia kicks off the campaign August 17 at Tishomingo County.
“We have high expectations this season,” Johnson said. “We are motivated. It’s all there for us. We just have to go get it.”
The huge lineman will once again suit up in his favorite number 52. It was worn by his first cousin, DeAndre’ Johnson, who was killed in a car accident in April 2010 while the two were ninth graders at BHS.
“I want to carry on his memory and represent him to the fullest,” Davion Johnson said.
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