Sports just wouldnâ€™t be the same without the Manning family putting their stamp on the industry in such a way that is truly compelling to spectators everywhere. Think about it. Archie Manning made his legacy as a quarterback during his football career, only to have two of his sons, Peyton and Eli, do the same thing. The Manning family exemplifies the phrase â€˜Like Father, Like Son.â€™
At 425 W. Kenwood Drive, DeSales High School has been a witness to a unique family tradition. Austin Johnson, senior quarterback at DeSales and future UofL punter, is walking in the same footsteps as his father, Jeff Johnson, and brother, Ryan Johnson.
â€œMy dad punted for EKU, and he was also quarterback here. My brother punted for UofL, and he played quarterback here. So I am following in the footsteps. We all made our mark and all made a piece of history here. All-state champions, all of my family has played in it, so that is pretty special. Having both of them as a coach helps me focus and have an edge on everything because theyâ€™ve gone through what Iâ€™ve gone through.â€
It is not too often that you see a family trio of quarterbacks in high school and punters in college. For Johnson, there was a bit of pressure going into his freshman year of high school. Since dad and brother preceded him, he felt there was something to prove. But he says, â€œI finally realized that I am not them, and I did my own thing and made my own history. The pressure went away as I went to my sophomore and junior year.â€
DeSales stands as the defending 2013 and 2014 Class 2A state champions. Johnson, in his senior year, says he would love to three-peat. â€œEveryone wants to, but you have to take one thing at a time. We stay humble and hungry here. So thatâ€™s what it is about.â€
Head Coach, Harold Davis, who lives in the same neighborhood as Johnson, has been a major part to the nurturing of Austinâ€™s QB mechanics. Perhaps he sensed the genetics between the trio of family members when he asked Johnson to make the transition to quarterback his junior season.
â€œHis dad was a punter for Eastern and his brother just graduated from UofL as a punter,â€ said Davis. â€œThat work ethic he has with punting he has brought along with the quarterback position. Heâ€™s done everything we have asked. Last year was pretty tough for him to step in at quarterback as a junior replacing a two-year starter there. He has done pretty good.â€
In the meantime, Coach tells Johnson to not get overzealous about his commitment to UofL, for there is one last season to be played in a Colts jersey. But despite the excitement, he says Johnson has handled it well.
The soon to be Cardinal said the recruiting process was not too difficult for him. He narrowed his choices down to UK, WKU and UofL. When speaking with the coaches at Louisville, he says he felt an instantaneous bond, which secured his decision. He will look to make a major impact to the program next year, as he says he wants to write his own piece of history.
â€œI am going to do my job, give them field position and then give the defense a little edge, but I have to finish out my senior year, finish what I started here. Iâ€™m starting QB for the second year, and I want to finish it out with a bang. I know my teammates want to, and I am going to do whatever it takes for them.â€
He has endured the pressures of leading an offense. An innate ability in punting, a rigid mental toughness and dedicated training are not the only reasons Johnson has been successful. He says the support he has received from family and friends have helped him as well.
â€œThe whole community and support of my teammates and family have all pushed me to do the best I can do. When my head gets off track, they are there to put me right back on track. I am thankful for them and couldnâ€™t thank them enough for that.â€
As he continues his football career, there are two close persons in Johnsonâ€™s life who understand the transition from high school quarterback to college punter. Jeff and Ryan Johnson have become two special coaches in the life of their son and brother. At the end of the day, he knows they are, â€œPushing me really hard because they know my ability and want whatâ€™s best for me.â€ VT
Photo by Randy Whetstone Jr. | Contributing photographer