Season recap: Jeremiah Johnson
Last winter, Suitland coach Nick Lynch was killed in a car accident, leaving the Rams searching for leadership as they dealt with tragedy.
Jeremiah Johnson, a Maryland cornerback commitment, was up to the challenge.
“We lost our head coach last year,” said Ed Shields, who was elevated from defensive backs coach to head coach after Lynch’s passing, “and Jeremiah really took over team leadership. We didn’t go as far as we would have liked to go during the season, but to come back from that type of stuff [was impressive]. ... It was a time where you needed people to stand up and he was one of the people who stood up. Every time you go out on the field, at least in the beginning, you started to think about our coach. He was a big presence and he had a big affect on their lives. So anybody that helps you get through that transition period ... is a big deal. He really helped pull everyone together and helped keep the kids focused.”
Johnson was elected team captain and helped Suitland to a 9-2 season. The Rams fell in the Class 4A South semifinals to C.H. Flowers. Johnson caught 11 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, and recorded 99 tackles and four interceptions at the free safety spot. Shields said Johnson’s move from cornerback to safety ensured that he would be more involved in the team’s defense. The opposition could avoid Johnson at corner, but not at safety.
“In the second half of our first Flowers game, he was playing pretty possessed,” Shields said. “He plays like that anyway, but Flowers is a good team and he was playing sideline to sideline, putting hits on people that with his frame you don’t necessarily expect. We were down 14 points and we ended up coming back, and a lot of it had to do with him just playing possessed.”
Maryland was the first school to offer Johnson over the summer, and it took the 5-foot-11, 160-pounder just five minutes to think it over and commit. Despite coming into the season with his future all planned out, Johnson never took anything for granted.
“Some kids, when they get offered by Maryland earlier in the summer, they might think, ‘I don’t have to work as hard,’” Shields said. “But it didn’t change his work ethic. Matter of fact, it just made him work harder. So it never changed him or phased him one bit. He just kept working. He’s a great cover guy who we used at safety because he also runs the field and is a tackler. He is a little small in size for a place like Maryland, but it doesn’t stop him from being physical. He will come at you with everything he’s got. He’s a cover corner who can hit. Anytime someone breaks loose, we never had to worry because he’s going to run them down and bring them down.”
A Maryland assistant once commented to Shields that Johnson is “always in the film” -- either glued to his man or coming in to make a play. In a playoff game during Johnson’s sophomore year, Shields recalls the young cornerback’s instincts on display. The opposing quarterback pumped-faked, but Johnson didn’t bite. He stayed with his man step-for-step and broke up the pass.
“You saw it back then and thought, ‘Wow, this is a 10th grader,’” Shields said. “You just don’t always expect that from a 10th-grader in a big playoff game. So that kind of gave us a hint that we were going to see good things in the future from him.”