Top Jr. Back Leads Highland Park Playoff Win

When you're the featured player on an undefeated team, you have to figure that your first playoff opponent will know to key on you. Madison Heights Lamphere did just that, but even then, they were no match for top junior RB/LB Darius Johnson and his undefeated Highland Park Polar Bears as they rolled to a 42-7 victory in their playoff opener.

Madison Heights Lamphere came into Saturday afternoon's game with undefeated Highland Park knowing that to have any shot at winning they'd have to slow down their feature back, junior Darius Johnson, potentially one of the top ten highschoolers in the State of Michigan next season.

Lamphere learned quickly that is no easy task.

The junior plowed his way to 177 yards on the ground, including two touchdowns, one of which was a long touchdown run in the middle of the third quarter that stopped any momentum Lamphere got from their lone score.

What's more impressive about the 6-foot-1, 208-pound running back-linebacker? He's at his best when he's on the defensive side of the ball.

As the team's middle linebacker, Johnson is extremely quick to the ball, with excellent lateral and straight ahead speed. His physical attributes help him stand out, now he just needs to refine his skills and gain consistency. When given time, Johnson sets his feet, squares the ballcarrier up and cleanly wraps him and takes him to the ground. Johnson's problem is that he can at times struggle to repeat that form time and again, occasionally resorting to simply putting a shoulder into the ball carrier and hoping his pure strength knocks him down.

While quick laterally and straight ahead, Darius can still struggle at times with dropping back into coverage -- something he did rarely, as he blitzed on the majority of the plays. Despite blitzing most of the time, Johnson often wasn't able to get to the quarterback, simply trying to run over the first lineman he could find to hit rather than anticipating where a hole might open up. These traits are easily correctable though with the proper coaching at the next level.

Johnson is well aware he has the physical ability and that it helps him stand out on defense. "I'm definitely at my best on defense, getting to hit guys," Johnson emphatically told GoBlueWolverine after the game.

As a running back, Johnson is again plenty talented, but still has a bit more work to do. With his size and speed, when given a hole it's almost impossible to bring him down as he gets a head of steam going. But when there isn't a gaping hole, Johnson is rather tentative in approaching the line and doesn't use his physical strength to his advantage. He also runs very upright, leading him to be brought down rather easily. Too often weak diving tackles at his legs brought him down when with his size he should have easily shed the oncoming defender. Johnson, though, knows where he has to get better. He told us, "As a runner, I need to work on hitting the hole harder, taking what the defense gives me and getting what I can."

Receiving heavy interest from both Michigan State and Purdue, Johnson isn't overly concerned with the recruiting process at this point in time. Instead, he remains focused on one thing and one thing only. "I don't worry about myself or my own stats right now; my goal is just to help my team get to the championship."

As for where he may take his services when the decision of his college choice comes up, Johnson was non-committal. "I'm just looking for the best offer I can get," he said, continuing, "but I'll worry about that when the time comes."

For now, Johnson is just worrying about next week's opponent; Melvindale. Johnson has Ford Field on his mind, and will use his ability to help the Polar Bears get there.

For GoBlueWolverine's list of 25+ Top Instate Juniors, including Darius Johnson, and where they might rank, click here: In Search of a Top Ten Juniors List.

Note: GoBlueWolverine correspondent Paul Wezner is Senior Editor of

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