Johnson Steps Out From Behind the Shadow

WHEELING – It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

Not this quick, not with this type of end result.

Wheeling Park’s Savion Johnson is a legacy, the son of 1991 Kennedy Award winner Daryl “Boogie” Johnson, the only Kennedy Award winner in Park’s history.

That fact alone set the bar high, as high as it can be raised. Not only was he expected to be the best player in his area, but he was living in the shadow of a man once known as the state’s best player, and he didn’t even have to leave home to do it.

“He’s heard it since his Pee Wee days, ‘your dad did this, your dad did that,'” Park coach Chris Daugherty said. “It’s more of a compliment than anything. It’s also a tough act to follow. Savion has grown up being compared to his dad and that’s not easy when your dad also happens to basically be Mr. Football in the state and goes on to Oklahoma State and plays for a team Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders had just gone through.”

Ask Johnson, and he just shrugs.

He knows how good his dad was, nobody had to tell him.

He’s seen clips. Read stories. Saw game tapes.

“He was a great player, but I’m just trying to be me,” Johnson said last week, after he rushed for 193 yards and three touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass in the Patriots’ 55-34 victory against South Charleston in the first round of the West Virginia Class AAA playoffs. “We are really different type players.”

You won’t get much more then small answers from Johnson, the way he prefers it.

Non-descript, low-key, always deferring credit elsewhere: to his line, to his quarterback, to his coaches, one which just so happens to be a guy named Daryl “Boogie” Johnson, who coach’s the running backs.

For young Savion Johnson, his performance speaks for itself. The is a hard runner, with deceptive quickness. He isn’t afraid to run through a player, either.

He is the first Park running back, named Johnson or anything else for that matter, to rush for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore.

To date Johnson has 190 carries for 1,294 yards, a nice 6.81 yards per carry average. He has 20 touchdowns, 17 rushing and three receiving.

“We all knew Savion was going to be a great player, but I’m not sure that anybody he was capable of this, myself included,” Daugherty said. “We didn’t expect him to put up these numbers, to carry the load the way he has, at least not yet. He has been a pleasant surprise.”

Because he wasn’t supposed to be cast into the spotlight yet.

Not with Bryce Ingram, a second-team all-state running back last season, set for his senior season.

An offseason injury kept Ingram out of the lineup in the first two games, which allowed Johnson to get his feet wet against Keyser and Bridgeport.

Ingram returned week three and immediately made an impact in a 17-7 victory against University.

The roles reverted to what Daugherty expected in preseason.

Back in the saddle, Ingram was cruising along with 33 carries for 361 yards and six touchdowns and six touchdowns.

Then, catastrophe struck, when the senior went down with a season-ending injury against Morgantown.

Johnson’s time had come.

Thrust into the spotlight, he stepped up and out.

On the Patriots’ current five-game win streak, Johnson has rushed 762 yards with 11 touchdowns , going over 100 yards in all five games, despite being limited to a half against Elkins and Parkersburg South because the score was lopsided.

“Coming into the season, I just tried to prepare like I was a starter,” Johnson said. “I knew Bryce was going to be our leader, he was a, what, second team all-stater last year? It was his team. I figured I would block, get a few carries, catch a pass, whatever I could do to help this team win.”

That would have been enough.

Johnson, all of Park really, hates the way the season ended for Ingram, who still cheers on his teammates in jeans and jersey every game, his walking boot a reminder of just how harsh this game can be.

Johnson has said he runs for Ingram, running to make him proud. Along the way, he has made Park fans happy, his teammates believers and his coaches ecstatic. Especially one certain assistant in particular.

Even though sometimes it might not seem that way.

“His dad is probably harder on Savion than any other player,” Daugherty said. “Every once and a while we have to go over and say, ‘OK, leave him alone.’ He wouldn’t be doing what he is doing now without his dad. Same goes for the fullback and the line.”

Yet there is no doubting the talent, not from where I’ve been sitting.

Daugherty either.

“He has improved so much since the start of the year,” Daugherty said. “Just the other night he showed a move we hadn’t seen before, a little stop-and-go stutter step we hadn’t seen before. We were all like, ‘Where did that come from?’ The sky really is the limit for Savion. He’s going to get better and better.”

Dave Morrison can be reached via email at or on twitter at @sddsports