(Photo courtesy Heston Quan / MaxPreps.com)
The leading tackler on a suffocating defense that led the 2005 Dominguez High School Dons to the CIF Southern Section championship was a 170-pound middle linebacker.
You might have heard of him:
Yes, the same Jeron Johnson (No. 5 in the photo above) who is now a backup safety and core special-teams player for the Seahawks. Well, not exactly the same Jeron Johnson, because he now weighs 212 pounds.
“I wasn’t a traditional middle linebacker,” Johnson said with a smile. “But it definitely worked.”
Also on that championship defense for Dominguez?
“Those were two very intense competitors,” Dominguez coach Keith Donerson said recently. “We preached competitive not combative.”
Donerson and the Dons also preached speed over size, tenacity over tonnage.
That’s where Johnson fit in as a misfit of a middle linebacker. Despite his lack of bulk, Johnson was selected the Southern Section Division III defensive MVP after compiling 148 tackles, five sacks and five forced fumbles as a senior.
“My sophomore year, me and Richard were the only two sophomore playing varsity,” said Johnson, whose older brother, Tramell, was the strong safety on that team.
“Going into my junior year, during the summertime, they had me playing strong safety. But the middle linebacker we had couldn’t really keep up with the backs coming out of the backfield. One day, in passing league, coach put me at middle linebacker. It was a wrap after that.”
Johnson finished that junior season with 118 tackles.
What kind of middle linebacker was Johnson? “He was a good one,” Sherman said. “Jeron was athletic, and he was a ball hawk.”
But the real proof of the Dons’ defensive prowess was in the number of points it allowed. That senior season, when they were 13-1, the Dons yielded more than 20 points only once – and lost 38-21. They also posted two shutouts, held three other opponents to fewer than 10 points and five others to 15 or fewer.
A fluke? Not so say the scores of the Don’s games from the 2004 season, when they went 12-2. They allowed 20 or more points twice – 21 and 20, actually – and lost both games. Other than that, there were two more shutouts and eight other games where they allowed 15 or fewer points.
In the middle of everything was Johnson – figuratively and literally.
“It was speed on the field,” Johnson said. “We had D-ends at 180 pounds, but they could go. So it was all speed. My assignment was pretty simple. Sometimes I had the tight end man-to-man. Or I had the running back.
“It was pretty much see-ball/get-ball for me.”
But Johnson got only two offers coming out of high school – Boise State, which he accepted; and San Jose State, which he didn’t. He also made a visited to Utah State.
“They brought me up on a trip and didn’t offer me,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “And I thank them for it.”
At Boise State, Johnson continued his winning ways – the Broncos were 38-2 his last three seasons (2008-10); as well as his productive ways – he was the team’s leading tacklers for three consecutive seasons.
Johnson made the Seahawks’ 53-man roster as a rookie free agent in 2011. He had four special-teams tackles and three on defense while playing in seven games that season. Last year, Johnson had eight special-teams tackles and four on defense, including a pair of sacks. One of his sacks forced a fumble that was recovered by Sherman. Johnson also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the Week 3 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
“I’ve always played the underdog role,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Keep me hungry. Keep that chip on my shoulder.”
Spoken like a former 170-pound middle linebacker.