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All-Metro: Johnson gave Natchez High inspiration with his play

Natchez High School all-purpose athlete Derrian Johnson produced nearly 1,500 yards of offense and 18 touchdowns for the Bulldogs this past season while averaging more than 9 yards per touch. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Two wins defined the 2012 Natchez High School football season, and in both the presence of senior Derrian Johnson provided the inspiration the Bulldogs needed to win.

The first came on Sept. 21 when the Bulldogs were struggling to hang on to a lead against the then-No. 1 team in the state.

Meridian High School had taken advantage of a couple of Natchez turnovers and put Natchez’s chances of a historic win in jeopardy.

Johnson came off the field after the final Natchez turnover and demanded the football. For the remainder of the game, he got the ball, and he took over the ballgame.

“We wanted to win so bad,” Johnson said. “And I felt my teammates wanted to do so well that every time we made a mistake we got down.”

Johnson finished with 268 all-purpose yards and accounted for five touchdowns, and Natchez won 54-41.

The second defining game came in the season finale, and Johnson only played for a few minutes before an ankle injury knocked him out of the contest.

He tried a few times to reenter, but when it was clear that he could not, his teammates used him to rally against Oak Grove High School.

“It meant a lot to me to be able to play out my senior season, but I went out early,” Johnson said. “But my teammates stayed strong, and they came to me and said, ‘We got this for you.’

“I said, ‘Ya’ll better. This is my senior night.’”

Johnson stayed on the sideline and cheered as hard as his teammates played, and the Bulldogs won on a last-second blocked field goal, 41-40.

Johnson had the ability to motivate his teammates on and off the field, but his performance between the lines earned him The Natchez Democrat All-Metro Player of the Year honor.

The senior lined up at every offensive skill position this year and produced nearly 1,500 total yards and 18 touchdowns. He averaged more than 9 yards per touch on offense.

Johnson cherished his various roles on offense, he said.

“I enjoyed (moving around) a lot,” he said. “I want the ball to come to me.”

The senior said this year’s Bulldog team had something special that allowed it to put together a season the players will always be proud of, despite missing out on the postseason.

“We have fun, and we stayed together through adversity,” he said. “These are great guys that picked everybody up at practice and worked hard.”

Johnson said his role was to keep his teammates inspired and focused, and he took his inspiration and focus from the Natchez coaching staff.

“The coaches worked hard to keep us motivated and fighting,” Johnson said. “Our coaches were always telling me how I was there for those type of (big) moments.”

Johnson said he hopes that he left the underclassmen with a few things that will help the team continue to bring home big wins in big games.

“A lot of (the underclassmen) looked up to us,” he said. “I had some telling me they were going to be better than me, like (sophomore) Sidney Davis. He’s like my little brother. He’s just like me, and he tells me he’s going to be the next All-Metro and All-State player.”

Johnson’s two proudest moments were his performance against Meridian, and his game-winning touchdown against Terry High School, he said.

Johnson said there is a lot of pride in being named the best player in the Miss-Lou, and he has a lot of buddies that will hear about it from time to time.

“It’s definitely bragging rights,” he said. “I’m proud of myself and for our fans and supporters and my family. I have always enjoyed playing with (players from the area).”