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All-Metro football: Undersized Johnson had big season

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The strategy at L.C. Bird is no secret: The Skyhawks run the football. Whether it's first and 10 or third and long, odds are the ball will be placed in the running back's hands.

Through the years, many good runners have come and gone from L.C. Bird. Two of them — Jason Snelling and Doug Chapman — have played in the NFL. Two more — John Taylor and Jason Vineyard — were named All-Metro players of the year.

But the most recent back, Yahkee Johnson, may have been the most sensational of them all. He capped off two impressive seasons by being named the 2011 All-Metro player of the year.

Bird coach David Bedwell says Johnson, a senior, is the best running back he's coached in his 12 years at the Chesterfield County school.

"Not to take anything away from those other kids, but what he's done the past two seasons is just remarkable," Bedwell said. "He's got everything you want — except for the size."

The story of Yahkee Johnson can't be told without mentioning his stature. At 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, he was one of the smallest players to take the field in the Central Region.

No matter how talented a football player is, if he's small, there's a fear that he can't handle the rigors of college football, being slammed to the ground by 260-pound linebackers on every carry. Consequently, college recruiters are wary to take undersized players.

So far, Johnson has four scholarship offers: Division II Shepherd and Concord, and Division I FCS Old Dominion and Delaware State.

But he's waiting to see if any other higher-profile teams make a last minute offer. If a college doesn't get the first player on its wish list, sometimes it extends an offer to its second choice. And Johnson hopes to be that guy.

Bedwell does his best to advocate for Johnson, who could play running back, receiver or returner in college.

"You're missing out," he tells recruiters. "He's not a kid who, physically, when you look at him, you wouldn't pick him to be on your football team. But when you pop in the tape and see how competitive he is and watch him in practice and watch him do all the things that he does … they're missing out."

And what he brings to a team extends beyond the field, Bedwell said. L.C. Bird has a group of special-needs students who wash the football team's uniforms. Johnson is the only member of the team who stops by to say hello and hang out with the kids.

"It's his way of saying thanks," Bedwell said.

Johnson doesn't view his size as something he lacks. Instead, he sees the elements that larger running backs don't have, such as elusiveness and speed.

His size and speed were the reason why defenders had so much trouble getting a clean hit on him. Even if they got him with one hand, Johnson would shuffle his feet, shift to one side and keep pushing until two or three tacklers closed in.

Carrying the ball 30 or 40 times a night, he racked up tremendous numbers: 2,509 rushing yards and 37 rushing TDs (both school records). He also set the mark for rushing yards in a game with 302 yards, previously set by Snelling at 285.

"It's amazing, man" to be compared to Jason Snelling, Johnson said. "Because he's in the NFL doing big things, and I'm just in high school."

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