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Golden Valley's Earl Johnson: Alone in his quest

was a backup last year, but is now the league’s leading rusher

Posted: October 20, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 20, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Golden Valley senior Earl Johnson has amassed 789 carries on 108 carries so far this season, which is already more than he had last season.

 

One year ago, Earl Johnson was a junior running back on the Golden Valley football team trying to earn playing time alongside talented starter Jeff Coprich.

By the end of the season, though, playing time wasn’t a question.

Johnson exploded onto the scene in his first varsity season, finishing with 114 carries for 698 yards and leading the team with nine touchdowns.

And that wasn’t all.

Johnson lined up as a running back, at slot receiver, and even threw a touchdown pass.

Still, Johnson wasn’t done, as he played some defense and accounted for 20 tackles and one interception.

Fast forward one year later, Coprich has transferred to West Ranch High School, and Johnson is the lone man in the Grizzlies’ backfield.

“I think last year Earl was used as a decoy,” says Golden Valley head coach Robert Fisher, who was offensive coordinator last season. “I don’t think last year he had the opportunity that he does this year.”

And his desire to take advantage of that increased opportunity is more than enough to fill the competitive void that left when Coprich transferred.

“I still compete with a lot of people on this team,” Johnson says. “I want to get better so I have to go hard on every play.”

And that’s an attitude that has bred success for Johnson, both on the field and off.

Growing up in a home with only his mother to look after him and his four older brothers, the 18-year-old Johnson found strength in the hard work he saw her doing with consistency.

“I do, I actually do (find strength in her),” Johnson says. “She has to be a strong woman to raise us without a father figure. I’m pretty sure it was really hard on her. She had to be a strong women and she never gave up on us.”

With his father, Earl Johnson Sr., living in Arizona, Johnson also relied on his four older brothers, who range in age from 19 to 26, to help guide him in life and in football.

And now his mother’s hard work and his brothers’ advice is showing up on the field for Johnson, as he leads the Grizzlies with 789 yards and leads the Foothill League in rushing and has notched 255 more yards than the league’s fourth highest rusher: Coprich.

The two, who have remained good friends, will have a chance to come face-to-face on Friday night when Golden Valley matches up with West Ranch at Canyon High School in a game Johnson says he’s excited for — just don’t expect the two to be best friends when they meet on the field.

“It’s just going to be about business. It’ll be a really intense game,” Johnson says. “It’ll be about who wants it more.”

And you’d be hard-pressed to find a young man who wants to win more than Johnson, who admits he would line up at offensive guard if it would help the team win.

“A lot of people say if you stop me they’ll shut us down,” Johnson says. “I like to be used as a decoy.”

Not something you usually hear from the league’s leading rusher — but that’s just who Johnson is.

“He wants to make plays and do everything he can for his team,” Fisher says. “He’s a very unselfish kid, which makes him unique. That kid has a heart and a motor.”

And that motor shows up just as clearly off the field.

“Earl’s not selfish, I can say he’s not selfish at all,” says his oldest brother, Vincent Rodgers, 26. “He’s really humble, he’s quiet. He don’t talk back to you, that’s one thing I respect about him, if you tell him to do something, he’ll do it.”

And Johnson’s been listening to the advice of his brothers throughout high school, as they have encouraged him to stay focused on school so that he can continue his football career after graduating from high school.

“I tell Earl all the time,” Rodgers says. “I tell him to be a student and then an athlete. I can’t be in school with him, but I try to do as much as I can to make sure he’s focused on school. I tell him academics are important. If you don’t have those, you can’t go to college.”

And college is the goal for Johnson, who says if he could go anywhere in the country he’d go to Ohio State University, Penn State, Fresno State or University of California, Berkeley, but would be excited to play anywhere at the next level.

And while his humble personality would never allow him to ask for recognition, opposing teams are starting to take notice as Johnson’s yardage total continues to climb.

“There’s a lot of guys in the box (now),” Fisher says. “They load up the box trying to put more people up (to stop Johnson). With Earl and his speed, if there’s nothing there, he’s going to use his speed to get outside.”

Something he’s done numerous times on the season, racking up four rushing performances of at least 100 yards, including a school-record 345 yards in the Grizzlies’ week five 38-20 loss to San Marino High.

But despite the individual accomplishments, Johnson’s biggest goal is one for his team.

“I want to help my team defeat a league opponent,” he says before pausing to add, “or opponents.”

Whether the Grizzlies accomplish that goal or not, though, they know they can count on their talented, yet humble running back to give his all on every play — even if he’s just a decoy.

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