BALTIMORE, Md. -- They came in busloads in the pouring rain, a few thousand down from the Western Maryland outpost of Cumberland, and storied Fort Hill High School (Cumberland,Md.), to see their undefeated Sentinels battle for another state 1A football title Dec. 6 at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
There were a few umbrellas in the driving rain, but mostly Fort Hill, Maryland and a few Pittsburgh Steelers rain ponchos for the hearty group, which dwarfed the Frederick Douglass (Baltimore) High School fan section across the way.
It was a sea of red, and they were not denied a consecutive state title, this a 40-8 Fort Hill decision, in part led by one of the brightest stars for the fabled program that years ago churned out Division I prospects most every year.
The marquee prospects are fewer these days, as both city and school enrollment has shrunk over the years along with jobs, but future Terp Ty Johnson was a beacon and favorite son.
The running back/corner/return man, despite only playing 2.5 quarters Dec. 6 due to a high-ankle sprain, contributed big on both sides of the ball as Fort Hill (14-0), only up 14-8 at the half, ran away with it late.
Johnson, who projects initially at College Park, Md., as a running back, rushed 10 times for 79 yards, caught one ball for 10 yards, while on defense he shined the most with a first quarter pick and 12-yard return, only to be outdone by his forced fumble on a receiver from behind, which led to Fort Hill's first score of the second half as they began to exert their will.
Johnson, who injured both ankles, the second (and worst) his right, which forced him to the locker room and later on the field in a Terps sweat jacket as a spectator for the final quarter, had never suffered a high-ankle sprain before in his prolific career. He entered the post-season with 1,534 rushing yards on 94 carries (16.3 avg) and 22 touchdowns, while receiving he had 7 grabs for 316 yards (45.1 avg) and six scores. He also had two interceptions, one he returned for a score.
So it was with heavy emotion (and a bleary-eyed Johnson post-game), he watched the final quarter-and-a-half as a spectator on this, the biggest stage before he enters Maryland in the fall. Johnson was at every Terps home game unofficially this fall, while he will make his official campus visit this weekend.
"I love these guys right here, and I always want to give my best out there...."Johnson said, fighting back emotion. "I wanted to get back in, I was telling them to tape me up, tape my ankle, tape around my shoe. But they were saying 'no, it's not worth it [risking further injury].'"
There's been discussion Johnson could one day be a corner at the college level. He only allowed one pass completion in the game, that the one that went for about 10 yards over the middle before he ran it down and forced the fumble with the aggressive strip coming out of the Douglass red zone.
"The pick, we didn't capitalize on that but it stopped their drive. He read that well," Fort Hill Coach Todd Appel said. "The forced fumble, we don't practice a lot of stripping, we should do more, but Ty he stripped that and I actually had the pleasure of watching that replay (at halftime). And it was a tremendous effort."
"It was a slant from number five, and I saw their quarterback and he was rolling towards my way. But as our defensive line put the pressure on him, he turned field and I found him and five was the only guy open. He threw the ball to him, and when he did I got on coverage and turned him over."
Johnson said his dream has always been to be a running back, and on Fort Hill's very first play from scrimmage he showed why, taking a handoff over left tackle for 40 yards down the sideline before many fans had settled in. He was the one back who moved the chains in the first few quarters on a night the Douglass front seven proved stout up front. Johnson also had pickups of 14, 10 and 9 on the ground, and some third-and-medium distance runs he picked up key first downs to move the chains and set up scores.
"My dream has always been running back, and I am glad they gave me an opportunity to be a running back," Johnson said of Maryland. "It has always been in my head, and I never knew what was going on [positionally] because I didn't talk to a lot of colleges. Because I am kinda small, maybe a DB, I think I have like average height. So....those are just many thoughts, but running back right now."
Though it was an abbreviated performance, Johnson showed his quick feet, burst, acceleration through the hole and vision picking spots behind his blockers. He needs to bulk up to take the pounding as a college back, and said his goal is to get from 180 pounds to 190 this winter in the weight room. He will also compete in indoor track once his ankle is healed. Either way, he was making an impact and dialed up some big plays across the field. On that 40-ard dash from scrimmage, he said:
"I was pretty nervous. I'll be honest, I always get nervous the first play of the game, be it offense and defense," Johnson said. "And when he said 'off tackle 55 power,' you know, be patient, let everything form, and I saw our fullback Raen [Smith] kick out the tight end. And I saw the little hole and just hit it hard."
"We found ways to win, and when Ty was in there he helped out with those plays, whether it was that [defensively] or on the running plays," Appel said.
Johnson was seemingly still taking in the bright lights and big stage well after the game had ended, almost a dream that he was still living.
"It's a joy," Johnson said of playing his final game at Ravens Stadium before moving on to College Park and Byrd Stadium in the fall. "I was talking to [Maryland assistant recruiting coordinator] Ryan Steinberg actually last week, and he said think about it, your next home game you will be in a Maryland uniform. That shocked me, like wow, season's gone by fast and I want to be there. And if I keep working hard maybe I can be successful at Maryland. So there are so many emotions, I just want to tear up about it."
Johnson said he watched the recent wave of Terps football commitments with great anticipation, both from the 2015 and '16 classes, and while he does not know Keandre Jones or Adam McLean yet personally, he followed it on social media this month.
"Adam, wow, he is a big kid," Johnson said of McLean. "I think Maryland keeps doing what it's doing, and Coach Edsall, well he is the man for the job. And those kids coming to Maryland says a lot, especially for Adam, to beat Penn State and come to Maryland. I mean, everyone was shocked about it. They are going to contribute to Maryland big-time."
Johnson said Maryland's first Big Ten season was also something to see. He said that despite the loss to Rutgers on Senior Day, it was the best half of football Maryland put together on offense and defense that he witnessed this season, and expects more of the same in the future. Of the Terps inaugural BIG season, he said:
"That was amazing to watch. You know how people made comments that they wouldn't do well in the Big Ten. Well I am glad Maryland is a team that doesn't care what people say, they can go out and play their game, play Maryland football, and come out with a win."
Johnson said he couldn't wait to get in the weight room Monday, while Appel summed it up afterwards on the post-game dais with Johnson by his side. The Fort Hill coach called Johnson a "trendsetter now," given he broke through as Maryland's first Fort Hill commitment since the early 1990s.
"Ty is a great kid, and I think his work ethic will make him a success on the football field and off later on," Appel said. "He'll probably do a real good job up there [at Maryland], and we're rooting him on. And I kinda want Maryland tickets later on [laugh], so I hope he does well and he sends some tickets my way when I have a few minutes to go watch him."
Johnson Goes Out With Another State Title
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