Jordan Johnson has received neither email nor text, letter nor phone call.
The Hixson senior receiver and defensive back is unflappable for now and remains determined to fulfill his goal of playing college football.
“I’ll just have to prove myself once the season starts,” the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder said.
He already has convinced new coach Dan Duff, who has been impressed not only with Johnson’s athletic ability but also his demeanor.
“I’ve just known these kids a short period of time, but Jordan is very respectful and very talented. He has great speed, good hands and he loves to hit,” Duff said. “He has everything you want. I definitely think he’s a prospect — DII or NAIA and maybe FCS. He’s a good player and a pretty good student.”
He said such without knowing that Johnson had little desire to play video games or even less of an interest in watching television, and he usually can be found at church on Sundays and Wednesdays.
“I like to read. I actually read the Bible quite a lot,” Johnson said.
The 17-year-old was a starter last year but was somewhat overlooked in the Wildcats’ run-first, pass-as-a-last-resort offense. Coaches are among the few who notice a tough-blocking receiver.
But it might be easier for Johnson to show up as a receiver this year although the Wildcats have installed a lookalike of Carson-Newman’s split-back veer offense.
“We’re going to throw. You have to nowadays, but we want it to be when we want, and we’ll throw it deep, too,” Duff said.
“Our passing game may be better. We didn’t throw much last year, probably less than 10 times per game,” Johnson said.
“We don’t have many kids playing both ways but he’s one of them. He’s critical to our team,” Duff said.
— Ward Gossett
Head coach: Dan Duff (93-98 overall; 30-35 at Hixson 1996-2001)
Last year: 9-4; lost to Knoxville Catholic in Class 4A quarterfinals.
Returning starters (O/D/K): 5/5/0
(all games at 7:30 Eastern)
Aug. 22 — at Soddy-Daisy
Aug. 29 — South Pittsburg
Sept. 5 — at Tyner*
Sept. 12 — at Bradley Central
Sept. 19 — Howard*
Sept. 26 — Livingston Academy
Oct. 3 — at East Ridge*
Oct. 17 — at Red Bank*
Oct. 24— Central*
Oct. 31 — Brainerd*
- District 6-AA game
Control panel: QB Preston Wilkey (5-9, 175, Sr.) has great speed and quick feet. “He makes good decisions. He throws the ball well and he’s accurate,” Duff said. One of the guys in front of him when the ball’s snapped is G Garrett Wheeler (6-1, 235, Sr.), and Duff noted that he had good feet and could anchor an experienced line. LB Marshall Cooper (6-1, 195, Sr.) will be playing both sides, subbing as a running back when needed; Duff said he’ll do a lot of things this year for the Wildcats.
New producers: LB John Ferris (6-0, 175, Sr.) almost didn’t play, but Duff says he’s a great athlete and is going to be a good player for the Wildcats. WR/DB Austin Slifko (5-11, 145, Soph.) is in line to handle the team’s kickoffs and PATs and is expected to contribute also at receiver and in the secondary. Although the Cats return most of their line starters, Duff expects DL Will Webb (5-10, 225, Jr.) to contribute if not work his way into a starting position.
Items of interest: The veer is here. When Duff was Hixson’s coach in the late 1990s, the Wildcats ran the split-back veer. Now that he’s back, they’ll be running it again but there is a twist. “When I was here before we didn’t throw it much, but then nobody was throwing it much,” he said. “But you have to throw it now. Our aim is to be balanced. We definitely want to throw the ball and not just in third-and-long. We will throw when we want to, and while I want high-percentage passes we will go deep on people and make them respect the whole field.”
The 2013 season provided a banner year, building on 2012. The Wildcats posted the school’s first back-to-back seven-win seasons since 1963, and the 16 wins over two years was the most in school history. Last year also was Hixson’s first time getting as far as the state quarterfinals and the first time Hixson won two playoff games in the same season.
After a two-year hiatus from the varsity, Garrick Hall has returned from a year off and a year coaching middle school football. He’ll coach the offensive line. Most of the assistant coaches are back this year, and one key holdover is defensive coordinator Charles Weems. His scheme, although having different terminology, will be similar to that of the 2013 Wildcats.