Intelligence, talent has Ivy League schools after South’s Ben Johnson

SUN-GAZETTE FILE South Williamsport’s Ben Johnson (71) blocks a Southern Columbia defender during a playoff game last season at Southern Columbia. Johnson has grown physically over the last two seasons and has become one of the Mounties’ best linemen.

Ben Johnson can break down math equations as well as he breaks down football film. The South Williamsport senior’s 3.8 grade point average ranks near the top, so he never worried much concerning his future.

He just never figured it would include football.

Two years ago, Johnson became a first-time starter along South’s offensive and defensive lines despite weighing only 200 pounds. He made an immediate impact and helped South win a league title, but still did not think college football figured in his college plans. A year ago, Johnson bulked up to 227 pounds and now enters his senior season weighing 260 pounds. After putting together a dominant junior season, Johnson realized college football suddenly was his future. His phone and email boxes have been filled ever since.

Johnson is receiving Division I interest, most coming from the Patriot and Ivy Leagues. He also has received an offer from Marist and drawn significant interest from Lehigh, Lafayette, Columbia and Holy Cross, among others. That football future now looks mighty bright.

“My first year here I was just trying to fit in with the team and I never had these kind of expectations for myself until recently with colleges reaching out to me,” Johnson said. “It just all kind of started to come together. I never really thought I would be in this position with an early offer and everything, but I think I’ve progressed a lot with my weight strength and knowledge of the game throughout the years.”

His teammates and coaches concur.

Johnson has been a force and was a two-way first team league all-star last season, helping South capture the HAC-III championship, win 11 games and reach the District 4 Class AA final. The 6-foot-3 senior has become a wrecking ball up front and was part of a super line that paved the way for 245 rushing yards per game. Johnson also was tough to block when playing defense and repeatedly made big plays at key times, but most colleges are viewing him as an offensive lineman.

Either way, Johnson is excited. He also is focused. Johnson said this will be a long process and one that does not conclude until after the season ends. Right now he simply wants to make the most of his senior year and try and help South go after a sixth straight league championship and/or district title.

“It’s a really unique experience. This whole summer has been jam packed with camps and recruiting stuff and all that stuff is finally starting to wrap up,” Johnson said. “I’m glad to finally be able to focus on South Williamsport’s season and be with the team 100 percent.”

So are the Mounties. Johnson is a weapon on both sides of the ball and helps set the physical tone for a team that won 10 straight games on the way to the 2016 district final. Johnson speaks softly and is a well-mannered person, but he becomes much different on the football field.

Johnson is explosive and strong. Combine that with his intelligence and instincts and one has a highly sought-after prospect.

“Ben has a lot of experience and a lot of things he can grasp onto going into his senior year where he can say, ‘I’ve been in this situation before. I know how to handle it and I can do it in an aggressive, violent way and not think about it,'” South coach Chris Eiswerth said. “That’s what makes the better players. The better players do things faster, more violent and more exceptionally than the guys they are playing and that is how they become all-state. They just do things at a more comfortable, faster fashion.”

Johnson played often as a freshman when South captured its first district championship since 1997, went 13-2 and reached the Class A state semifinals. He became a starter the next season, helping a team with just five returning starters win the NTL-II championship. Johnson put everything together last season and helped the Mounties routinely overpower and wear down opponents.

Johnson joined Connor Rutan, Reilly Barnes, Michael McDermott, Griffyn Metzger and tight ends Pat West and Chevy Bolay in helping the Mounties consistently gouge teams on the ground. Opponents knew what was coming, but Johnson so often made that not matter. A boy who once was small for a lineman has grown into something much bigger and more potent.

“His freshman year he was kind of tiny, but you could see him getting bigger and stronger and he’s turning into a man now,” said four-year starting running back/linebacker Gideon Green, who also is receiving Division I interest. “The way he manhandles kids on the field has increased over the years and he’s stepped up as a leader, too.”

Two years ago, South did its best running toward the strong side. But as Johnson learned more, he helped the South run game become more diversified. With Johnson helping lead the way there was nothing no longer weak about the weak side. That played a big role in Green nearly reaching 2,000 yards last season and Ashton Martin adding 969 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“A lot of time our sophomore years we had trouble running to the weak side of the ball, but last year Ben was a gigantic lineman,” Green said. “We’d run to the weak side and he would pancake kids and leave holes open for me and Ashton. Pretty much every time we run to the weak side now we can count on Ben creating those holes and allowing us to run to that side.”

Johnson’s future has dramatically changed the last few years, but South’s results have not. Johnson is a big reason the Mounties have kept on winning. And as excited as Johnson is about playing college football, he remains totally committed to South.

The present is the thing Johnson cherishes most right now. The goal before he leaves South is to make sure that tradition is still going strong.

“Each year is different. You’re looking up to everyone else and then you’re part of the team and in the mix and now this is your senior year and you have to step up as a leader and kind of show the younger guys the ropes,” Johnson said. “It’s been great playing for South and having a dominant o-line. When I was a sophomore they pushed me and I had to strive to play at their tempo. Now, it’s the other way around. I have to encourage guys to play at our tempo and fill in the spots we lost and do their jobs.”

If the Mounties do their jobs the way Johnson does his, both the present and future should remain bright.