The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 20, 2012

Victories, not statistics, the ultimate goal of Webb City's Johnson

By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer

— Phoenix Johnson, essentially, is carrying the ball less for the Webb City High School football team this season but enjoying it just the same.

“I don’t compare seasons (statistics),” Johnson said before Tuesday’s practice. “The wins are the thing.”

Johnson’s three-year varsity record, if the Cardinals can beat Jefferson City Helias Catholic on Saturday for the MSHSAA Class 4 championship, will be 45-0. He lost one game as a freshman.

“The loss was to Ozark and I think they blew us out,” Johnson said. “Maybe that’s why some of us were pulling for Ozark last week (in a Class 5 semifinal).”

Johnson, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound running back/linebacker, understands the decline in carries.

“We have more weapons on offense this season,” Johnson said. “I try to do my part.”

Cardinal head coach John Roderique agreed with Johnson.

“We haven’t had to rely on Phoenix as much,” Roderique said. “We’ve been more balanced. We’re throwing the ball more. Cooper (Smith) also has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. We’ve had less competitive games, too, which has made it difficult at times for the starters.”

Now, of course, Johnson’s offensive statistics aren’t shabby. He’s rushed for 1,334 yards and 23 touchdowns on 156 carries. He paces the team in scoring with 162 points (27 TDs)

The numbers through 14 games last season included 31 TDs and 1,728 yards on 194 carries.

Roderique uses the word “incredible” when looking at Johnson’s three varsity seasons.

It’s unusual, Roderique said, when Johnson doesn’t turn in more than one spectacular play during a game.

“He’s made plays in those years that no one else on our team could make,” Roderique said of Johnson’s exploits. “Last week, for example, he carried just six times (for 50 yards). But I remember him catching a pass on the sidelines and diving for the first down.

“I remember Phoenix knocking down a pass (from his outside linebacker position) in a recent game and later I was thinking maybe Nate Brown was our only other player who could have made the play,” Roderique said.

“Phoenix has that knack of making the big play when needed,” Roderique said. “He’s been so important to us in those three years.”

Johnson believes the game on Saturday could be the most important one of his Cardinal career.

Webb City will be seeking a first — three championships in a row — for its program. It’s after an 11th title overall. The seniors naturally aren’t considering a loss.

“It means everything to the team, especially the seniors,” Johnson said. “We try to not talk about it. But it means so much to the school, community and our coaches whom all I respect.”

Phoenix is the son of Wendy and Gary “Cat” Johnson. Their older son, Maddy, is a redshirt freshman slotback at Missouri State in Springfield.

Said Roderique: “Phoenix probably will be playing some defense on Saturday.”

Johnson, who welcomes the thought of more time on the field, and teammates believe they will be ready for the Crusaders. Webb City beat Helias 41-34 in 2008 in a scintillating championship game in the Edward Jones Dome.

“We’ve been working extra hard this week. It’s one of those big games,” Johnson said.