By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Bone-crushing tackles are great. Interceptions or fumble recoveries will get everyone jacked up. And Byrd’s Grant Johnson will admit he’s one of those who gets fired up over a big defensive play that causes a turnover.
But there are things that Johnson does on the football field — that few even notice — that makes him special for the Yellow Jackets’ defense. It is a nuance, a subtlety. His parents probably don’t even pay attention to it.
Stacy Ballew does. And that makes things a whole lot easier for the Byrd head coach.
There is a quote in football that says “we were beat before the play started.” What it means is that the defense wasn’t lined up properly. Once that play started, it was all over.
Thanks to Johnson, the Jackets’ starting free safety, that’s not something Ballew has to worry about.
“He makes all the calls on defense,” Ballew says. “He makes sure we are lined up correctly. He’s a great character kid and one of our team leaders.”
Maybe it’s getting a linebacker to move to a different gap. Or get a defensive back to set up a step deeper. Johnson’s job is to see the whole field and make sure the alignment is correct to give Byrd the best chance for success.
“It’s to the point now that if I don’t do it, I can be pretty hard on myself.” Johnson says. “If I do, it’s no big deal. On to the next play. It’s expected.”
It’s playoff time as Byrd will travel across the state to take on Jesuit in a Division 1 (select) first round game. The game will be played at the Shrine on Airline in Metairie. Both teams are 4-6; Jesuit is the No. 16 seed and Byrd is seeded 17th.
“Grant is a smart football player. He can get us lined up to just about anything that they throw at us,” Ballew said. “Especially this time of year because we’ve played so many games and seen so many different offenses. So if they throw something at us we weren’t expecting, we should know how to adjust.”
Johnson’s 48 total tackles is third on the team and his 4.61 GPA would suggest he is making an impact in the classroom as well. But knowing the Pythagorean theorem or the difference between mitosis and meiosis isn’t going to help much when you are trying to dissect an offensive formation in the moments before the snap.
But Johnson says being a “smart football player” works in multiple ways.
“It means hard work,” he says. “It means doing that on and off the field. If you go into the classroom, pay attention and get your work done, that makes you a good student. That also correlates on the field as well.”
Johnson says he’s more of a math guy than a science guy, but he’s not as picky when it comes to being on the football field.
He started off the 2023 season at weak side safety, but the coaching staff wanted Johnson to be more involved in the run defense. “I had been at free safety since my sophomore year, but they had moved me around to try to find the best fit,” Johnson said. “Finally, they decided to put me where I had been before and was comfortable.”
When he was a sophomore, the team rule was that a player had to be on the first or second team to make the travel squad for away games. Johnson realized that he wasn’t going to make that list – “I wasn’t first or second team free safety,” he says — but he found a way around that.
“I started long snapping,” he says.
Now, he’s also regarded as a top long snapper recruit.
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