TERRE HAUTE —
Maybe it’s the beard that does it — the one he started growing late in the American Legion baseball season — but Terre Haute South receiver/defensive back Jacob Johnson has the look of an elder statesman this fall as he competes in high school football for Terre Haute South.
Of course, who has more right to look that way? Or, much to the delight of his coach, act that way as well?
“He’s a four-year starter, and he’s taken a leadership role on this team,” Tim Herrin said this week, “not only with his effort, but with helping the younger players progress along.”
If being one of the old men on the team is something new for Johnson, it’s a role he enjoys.
“It seems like my freshman year was just last year,” he told the Tribune-Star this week. “It’s nice knowing you’re putting work in and finally getting something out of it. This season is the start of something new, and it’s nice to know you’re one of the ones starting it.”
Count Johnson among the Terre Haute football players who have been revitalized by a couple of developments since last year — leaving the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference and having the biggest schools in the state bump up to the new Class 6A.
“We’re not in the MIC anymore, and we want to start a winning legacy,” he said this week. “We want to learn how to win, have that winning mentality.”
With that kind of emphasis in mind, it’s easy for an observer to pick out the personal highlight of Johnson’s four-year career with the Braves so far.
Three weeks ago he made a sliding catch in the end zone with 34 seconds left in the game, scoring the winning touchdown against Terre Haute North to cap a two-touchdown rally by the Braves in less than two minutes.
“Senior year, North-South game, winning touchdown — for sure [that’s the highlight],” Johnson agreed. “But my freshman year, when we went to the semistate in baseball, that was a fun ride too.”
Yes, Johnson is a four-year regular for the Braves on the diamond too. But when he was questioned about potentially winning eight varsity letters, he was quick to offer a correction.
“I’ll have four academic letters too,” he pointed out, noting that the qualifications for that included a grade-point average of at least 3.8 during his freshman and sophomore years. “I try to do well on and off the field.”
Herrin appreciates both aspects of his senior leader.
“He has a very high football IQ,” the coach emphasized. “He picks things up really quick; he has advanced route-running skills because of that.”
Johnson can play any one of South’s four receiving positions, the coach added, and is capable of playing anywhere in the defensive backfield as well. He occasionally goes in motion to carry the ball, and just for good measure, “he’s one of our best blockers,” Herrin said. “He’s helped our running game tremendously.”
It’s all good for Johnson this season, his healthiest as a Brave (he knocks on wood while discussing that) and potentially his most successful. A loss at Perry Meridian last week gave South its first Conference Indiana setback, but tonight’s trip to Columbus North is an opportunity to get back on the winning track.
“We’ve had a good start to the season,” he said. “The first half [at Perry Meridian] was a little sluggish, but coach Herrin challenged us at halftime and we were resilient and fought back. We know we can’t dig ourselves a hole [and expect to win].”
Although South’s receiving corps is deep, Johnson leads the team in yards — he’s caught 19 balls so for for 344 yards and four touchdowns — and often seems to be the target in the tough situations.
“Me and [quarterback] Timmy [Herrin] are working together well,” he said, “but all the receivers are [working well]. We’ve just got to keep it up.”