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THE GRIND: Lambert's Johnson balances star power in two sports
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"You don’t always have to talk to be the leader; the loudest guy out there isn’t necessarily the leader," Johnson said. "Your role might be to pick up balls after practice, to cheer other people up, to score touchdowns…there’s no small role on this team, and if everybody does their part, we’ll be successful." - photo by Micah Green

Imagine, for a second, that you had been transported unknowingly to the bleachers of Johns Creek High School’s Colosseum last Friday night.

After the initial shock of, well—teleportation—wore off, you would have seen Lambert senior cornerback Jeremy Johnson return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the first quarter alone and intercept a pass in the end zone one quarter later.

You would have asked a neighbor what major Division I football program the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Johnson was going to play for. You would have been informed that he was bound for the SEC — to play baseball.

Johnson was a first-team All-Region 6-AAAAAA selection in both football and baseball as a junior for the Longhorns, a distinction only two others earned. He committed to play baseball at Auburn while on an Aug. 5 visit to the school.

"I think I have more of a career in baseball," Johnson said. "I’m a bit on the small side for football, but Auburn offered me a full baseball scholarship...When they did that, I knew they wanted me."

NCAA Division I baseball programs are allowed to divide up a total of 11.7 scholarships per season, meaning all but the most coveted recruits typically receive only a partial scholarship. Auburn had 39 players on its baseball roster last season.

Johnson spent his last two summers training mostly for football and then turned his attention to hitting practice in the winter months as the spring baseball season approached. Weight training regimens for football and baseball are not much alike, but benefits gleaned from the two sports are not mutually exclusive.

"Football definitely helps with baseball, and a lot of colleges would say the same," Johnson said. "We do lots of footwork drills in football, which helps as an outfielder in baseball with hip flexibility and turning your shoulders to chase fly balls. Baseball helps with your ball skills and knowing how to track the ball and break on the ball."

Johnson made a home run-saving grab in left field in the deciding game of Lambert’s GHSA Class AAAAAA baseball state championship series as the national No. 1-ranked Longhorns beat Milton. He led Forsyth County with six interceptions last season.

This time of year, it’s all football, all the time. The Longhorns’ starters lift weights during the first period of the school day and take part in light workouts and film study on Saturday mornings after games. Lambert lifts weights on game days, too, during their normal morning time and again in the early afternoon to get warmed up.

The day-in, day-out beating football doles out leaves little energy for Johnson to worry about baseball.

"It’s tough [during the season] because football takes a lot of weight off you and you’re always worn out after practice," he said. "But, if I’m feeling up to it, I’ll go get baseball work in."

This summer, Lambert traveled to the University of West Georgia for a full-contact football camp and competed against state powers like Colquitt County, Camden County, McEachern and North Gwinnett. In the past, the Longhorns might have been intimidated, but not anymore.

"We didn’t do as bad as we thought we would," Johnson said. "…Usually, the Lambert team is the one that backs down, but we didn’t do that."

Still, the senior said it’s on his group of upperclassmen to take after former Longhorn football stars like Chris Laye and Dillon Alexander and help underclassmen realize that, yes, Lambert can compete with the big boys. It won’t happen overnight, if the Longhorns’ season-opening loss to Gwinnett County power Lanier is any indication.

It could be easy to scan past Johnson’s No. 23 on the Lambert sidelines or in the Longhorns’ dugout. He’s not a flashy, trash-talking cornerback or a barrel-chested outfielder. The affable Johnson leads the way he learned best from his predecessors.

"You don’t always have to talk to be the leader; the loudest guy out there isn’t necessarily the leader," Johnson said. "Your role might be to pick up balls after practice, to cheer other people up, to score touchdowns…there’s no small role on this team, and if everybody does their part, we’ll be successful."