James Nosek | Press Box Perspectives Editor/Columnist
It really was a magical season for the Mason varsity football team, but ever since their first round playoff loss against St. Xavier, the season is past us. Coach Brian Castner mentioned that this year has set the tone for future Mason teams but have they set the bar too high? Is making it to the playoffs for the second straight year going to be too much of a challenge? Next year’s team is going to have a lot to prove if they want to match the success in 2011.
The player who is going to be under the most scrutiny and have the most pressure to perform for next year is running back Darryl Johnson. He is going to have the challenge of being the only serious offensive threat for the Comets considering quarterback JD Sprague is graduating.
Johnson and Sprague combined for forty touchdowns, contributing to 240 of the 310 points scored this year. These two guys were the offense for the Comets, and think about next year when Sprague is gone, you take away 21 touchdowns and over 1500 yards from the quarterback position.
This is going to make Johnson have to step up because looking at probable 2012 starting quarterback Drew Matula, putting up the numbers Sprague did is going to be a huge mountain to climb. You can’t forget as well that next year’s team will be without Sprague’s two hottest targets, wide receiver Kevin Niehoff and tight end Zach Boden, who had nine touchdowns between them.
Offensively next year, the Comets are really going to miss their all-senior offensive line and that is going to play a huge factor in Johnson’s performance next year. “I give a lot of credit to my offensive line,” Johnson said for his overall success in 2011. Johnson is exactly right; he had a great deal of help this year running through a line which was led by five experienced seniors including Illinois-bound Joe Spencer. “It will be different and cool to see who steps up to fill [the senior’s] spots,” Johnson said. “Next year with a young offensive line, I’m going to have to use my experience and be two times better, I can’t make a lot of mistakes.”
As Johnson looks towards next year, he can’t forget the unbelievable season he has just completed. Johnson, who is just a mire 5’10” 180 pounds, came out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people. Who would have thought that Johnson could have came into a tough situation like filling 2010 graduate, David Fulcher’s shoes and have the season he did. (19 TD’s and 1306 rushing yards). Johnson finished the first six weeks with 16 touchdowns and 740 yards as he gained a lot of publicity in the process. But the only bump in the road for Johnson was his performance at the end of the year. He only compiled three touchdowns in the last five games and didn’t look like the Darryl Johnson who lit up defenses in the first half of the year. “Overall I was disappointed, I thought I would have done better,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the year, we did play tougher defenses so I’m also proud of myself.”
Against Middletown, Johnson only had 67 yards rushing off 20 carries but to his defense, he was sick and had an injured right hand. Then in the first playoff game against St. Xavier, Johnson only ran for 36 yards and even though he did score a touchdown, it didn’t affect the score of the game because it happened with a minute left. Now St. Xavier has a very solid defense, Coach Castner even said “they are the best defensive team in Ohio,” but in a playoff game, 36 yards off 12 carries is 36 yards off 12 carries, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. If you look at every loss this year, the biggest similarity is that Johnson has gained under 100 rushing yards. That stat can only say so much but three of the losses: Colerain, Middletown and St. Xavier, were games against top ranked teams.
Johnson did have some success in the last four games despite many people’s opinions. He gained 222 yards against Princeton and also scored two touchdowns off 175 yards rushing against Oak Hills but once again, look at the Middletown and St. Xavier games.
Looking towards next year, Johnson is going to be the most important key to the team. With 26 seniors graduating, including many key offensive players, next year’s team is going to have to step up if they want to follow the footsteps of the 2011 squad. Don’t get me wrong, Johnson had a great year, no question about it but did he set the bar too high for his own good? Can he repeat his success next year? With his whole offensive line graduating, struggles at the end of the year and the pressure to “carry the torch,” from last year’s great season, it will be interesting to see how he responds.