Top 100: Bryant Johnson, Herndon Football, 1986

Top 100: Bryant Johnson, Herndon Football, 1986

Barry Johnson, arguably Herndon High School's greatest athlete, remembers a newspaper article that tore him up inside. He doesn't remember the specifics, but he remembers reading the words as something to the effect of "There is only one Johnson at Herndon High School."

Most star athletes, like Barry was back in those days, would have been fine with being singled out amongst his peers, but Barry — a standout soccer player, basketball star and wide receiver with the football team — knew that those words that he read were false.

Barry and quarterback Keith Moody were one of the most unstoppable tandems in the Northern Region throughout their tenure in the mid-1980's. Together they broke defenses for long passes and combined as the region's top scoring duo in their junior and senior seasons. Barry, a 6-foot-4 receiver, could rise above what would often be a triple-teaming defense to come down with a touchdown catch at any moment in any game.

But Barry knows the truth about his high school career and just how many 'Johnsons' were truly a part of Herndon's football success in the mid-1980's.

Bryant Johnson, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound tailback, was what Barry knew was the team's engine for success. "He was an unsung hero. The reality was that we couldn't throw the pass if he didn't break it wide open [with the run]," said Barry.

And Bryant, known to his teammates and friends as B.J., did just that with his powerful, effective, cutback mixture of running styles that kept defenses baffled throughout the mid-1980's.

BRYANT JOHNSON didn't make a name for himself until his junior season when he broke out for over 100 yards in the final game of the year. But the game that typified his style and ability was an early September game against Robinson in his senior year when he ran for a mere 88 yards on 22 carries. And while those numbers remained less than impressive, it was Bryant's ability to be the dependable bright spot in a low-offensive output against the Rams which ended in a 3-0 victory for Herndon — a team which had gained outrageous preseason attention. Without Bryant's effort, Herndon, which was ranked No. 1 by the Journal, No. 8 by the Washington Post and No. 1 in the Connection's Great Falls District coaches poll in the preseason, would have sputtered in its season-opener. Connection sports columnist Frank Carulli wrote that the game was "marred by seven turnovers." He called B.J. the "lone bright spot." Even Noll, known for focusing only on team accomplishments and not individuals, acknowledged Bryant's individual effort. That was what Bryant did for the Hornets. He was an anchor. Someone reliable during the difficult times.

"He was a natural tailback," remembered Noll. "He would make you miss. He had great cutback ability and great vision. One of the hardest working kids I've ever coached."

With Bryant keeping defenses guessing, Moody and Barry went to work. The three-headed monster destroyed its way through the season rolling over Oakton 30-7, charging past Edison with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the 26-14 victory before destroying Washington-Lee 30-0. It was in the 21-7 victory over Madison that Herndon's three-headed monster emerged in true fashion. Carulli wrote "It was there that the most dangerous triple-threat in Northern Virginia — quarterback Keith Moody, tailback Bryant Johnson and tight end Barry Johnson — brought the large crowd to its feet."

THE WIN, capped by an undesigned cutback burst through the line by Bryant Johnson, gave Herndon one of its best starts of the decade with an undefeated 5-0 record that put the Hornets at the top of the Great Falls District.

It also helped the Hornets forget about their 5-5 finish from the season before.

The three-headed monster rolled on with a 34-0 victory over Yorktown and eventually secured a 21-0 win over Langley to become the first team in school history to secure a 7-0 start and to become the No. 7 ranked team in the state. Bryant recorded his eighth touchdown of the year in the win over the Saxons. A 28-3 victory over McLean further enhanced Herndon's playoff hopes and a 14-8 victory over previously undefeated Marshall helped the Hornets to secure that berth. Bryant Johnson wasn't done though. He dashed rival South Lakes in the next game for 194 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries in front of a crowd of 6,300 fans for the 43-14 victory. Bryant helped Herndon hang on for the 24-21 victory over Chantilly in the first round of the Northern Region playoffs. Herndon ended with a 10-1 record that season after losing to T.C. Williams in the next round of the playoffs. "He could turn a loss into a 30 or 40 yard gain," said Barry of Bryant. Bryant Johnson went on the Liberty University on a full scholarship. Attempts to find Johnson were unsuccessful.

The Line

Bryant Johnson and the triple-threat offense was protected by a line led by 6-foot-2, 220-pound and future University of Miami star Bukasa Kalombo. Other linemen included: Tris Carpenter, Brian Dougherty, Jamie Miracle, Marc Cuesta and fullback Scott Wood.

Bryant Johnson is 64 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.