Wheeling Park’s Johnson wants to exceed father’s achievements

By Rich Stevens, Sports Writer
Wheeling Park’s Savion Johnson

The Wheeling Park High School football team has won only 11 playoff games since opening its doors in 1976 and five of those came in 1991 and 2013 combined.

And, each of those teams were led by a running back with the same last name.

Savion Johnson hopes to go one step farther than his father — Daryl “Boogie” Johnson — did in 1991 when the Patriots reached the Class AAA state championship game before dropping a 15-14 overtime decision to Capital. The younger Johnson helped the Patriots reach the state semifinals last year, only to fall, 34-21, to Huntington at Bob Sang Stadium. Those are the only two times Wheeling Park has reached the state semifinals.

The rising junior also wouldn’t mind becoming only the second Wheeling Park player to win the Harry H. Kennedy Award, just like his father 23 years ago.

“I don’t think about doing the same things, I want to do better than all of them,” said Johnson, who ran for 1,484 yards on 213 carries and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore. “I wish we would’ve went one step further, but it meant a lot to be called the second-best team (in the history of the school).”

Running somewhat timid early as a sophomore, Johnson became more decisive as the 2013 season wore on. In the opener against Keyser — the first multi-carry game of his career — he had 118 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown in the Patriots’ 45-22 rout of the 2012 Class AA runner-up Golden Tornado.

“That was my first varsity game, so I was nervous,” said Johnson, whose 40-yard dash clocking was 4.67 seconds when he was timed most recently at the high school. “I didn’t want to mess up. I just tried not to stay too calm, but to make sure I followed my blocks. I was more confident as the season went on.”

Johnson helped a senior-laden team roll to a 9-1 regular season record during which Wheeling Park earned its first-ever victory against Ohio power Steubenville.

He won’t have the assistance of the upperclassman this year when Wheeling Park opens the season against Allderdice (Pa.) at 7 p.m. at Wheeling Island Stadium.

“We’ll probably have heavier run sets, but in the same setup as last year,” he said. “Now, we’ll have more formations we thrown in where we have extra blockers and stuff.”

The opener will mark the beginning of his junior season and the end of his busiest summer when he kept regular attendance at football camps, including Cincinnati, West Virginia, Purdue and Rutgers.

In fact, he received an offer while at the Bearcats’ camp when Akron coaches got his attention near the end.

“It was crazy,” he said. “I had never been in contact with them (Akron) and never got an email to their camp,” Savion said. “At the end of the camp, they said, ‘We want to offer you.’ I got my dad, and he said, ‘Are you serious?’”

He’s also receiving more attention from WVU, a member of the Big 12 where Oklahoma State, Savion’s father’s alma mater, resides.

“I couldn’t tell how interested Purdue was when I went there,” said Savion, whose father was coached by the late Joe Spence, Savion’s grandfather. “WVU showed more interest than I thought they would. The first time I visited there, I didn’t really get shown the attention that other people did. But, this time it was way different. The coach introduced himself to me.

“That would be something to talk about for sure, if I went to WVU and faced Oklahoma State. I like Oklahoma State, too. I went to the Oklahoma State-WVU game. I like the atmosphere (at WVU) and I know how crazy the kids are at our school and I know they would be rooting for me.”

His father, who coaches the running backs at Wheeling Park, has handed down his knowledge of ball security and vision Daryl Johnson had when he ran for 4,010 yards in his career at Wheeling Park. Savion Johnson also said they manage to maintain a businesslike relationship on the field with, perhaps, a little bit more energy thrown in.

“If I did something I felt was right and the running backs coach has something to say, me and him can have our opinion and it won’t be like I’m talking back to the coach,” he said. “We have better discussions.”

Learning from his father has helped Johnson get a rapid start to a promising prep career and, potentially, college one as well — even if he doesn’t lay awake at night concerning himself with what will happen after he graduates.

“I’m just happy to have an offer and people are looking at me,” he said. “I really wanted one offer this summer. At least one. Once I get more, I’ll start thinking about it.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail


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