SLAYTON — Dylan Johnson missed last fall’s football season with a knee injury, then when the Murray County Central halfback took a vicious hit to the helmet a few weeks ago against the rugged Springfield defense, he was sidelined again.
“I saw stars a little bit,” Johnson said. “I was a little nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to play.”
Turns out the Rebels’ foes should have been the nervous ones, because Johnson has been giving the opposition nothing but headaches ever since.
“We’ve had some fun games,” Johnson said. “Not a lot of people thought we were going to do good this year after losing a lot of seniors, but we’ve turned that around. It’s been really nice.”
Johnson, a 170-pound junior, has rushed for 765 yards and five touchdowns as MCC has built a 5-1 record. Since the Rebels’ 35-0 loss to powerful Springfield on Sept. 13, Johnson has had huge games in victories over Minnesota Valley Lutheran (258 yards rushing), New Ulm Cathedral (118 yards) and Sleepy Eye (188 yards).
“He’s a very physical runner,” MCC coach Patrick Freeman said. “He’s not scared of contact and he keeps his pad-level really low, and when he’s able to get some open space he has a little bit of speed to break away.”
The Rebels employ a hybrid type of Wing-T attack that utilizes misdirection, deception and multiple formations.
“We do a lot of angle blocking,” Freeman said. “We’re not the biggest team, so we try to find correct blocking angles and have our backs be quick to the hole.
“Dylan is a focal point of our offense. He’ll line up in the backfield, he’ll line up in the slot, he’ll line up at the wide receiver position ... He does a great job.”
Much of his work last season came off the field.
“He spent a lot of time in rehab this past year and really worked hard in the weight room,” Freeman said. “When you look at his results, give credit to him for the effort he’s put forward.”
Johnson deflects credit.
“It feels nice to be back,” he said. “The coaches have really helped me. Everything that they do and all the surrounding people in the weight room have helped a lot.”
Said Freeman: “Great kid. He’s a leader for our football team and kids believe in him. He’s a kid who’s going to do the extra stuff. He understands how important football is to him and his teammates.”
That attitude has been exemplified often at Rebel practices. Freeman has a wheel-of-fortune type of device that is used primarily for disciplinary reasons. The wheel stops at spots to dictate minor post-practice exercise for such violations as lack of academic progress or missed practices.
“Dylan took it as a positive,” Freeman said.
And as a way to put in extra effort.
Johnson and buddy Christian Kuball, a promising sophomore lineman, spin the wheel every day in order to get in a little more daily conditioning. It’s not because they need the discipline; it’s that they crave the rewards.
“Anything I can do to help my team and get better,” said Johnson. “It feels good.”
That’s especially true given his injury history — and the hard knocks he took in the Springfield game.
“He was a little rattled,” Freeman said. “He took a hard hit and went through the concussion protocol. He passed the impact test and had no more symptoms, so he was able to play the next week.
“It would be a big loss if we lost him, not just because of the type of player he is on the football field but because of his leadership,” Freeman said. “He’s a role model for our team.”
Johnson’s father, Nathan, and his relatives Chris and Zach Johnson, all played football at Murray Country Central. All were running backs. And all wore No. 33.
“It’s kinda cool,” Dylan said. “I’m trying to keep the legacy going.”