There's something about DeAngelo Johnson that makes him stand out.
East Ridge coach Tracy Malone says that athletically it is the linebacker's presence.
"He's a really good kid but quiet. On the sidelines he's all smiles and friendly, but I've never seen a kid be able to turn that switch on and off like he does," Malone said. "When he steps on the field, he's a different cat."
That cat also has assumed more of a leadership role, occasionally speaking up in the defensive huddle and definitely leading by example.
"I'm the defensive captain so I am trying to take a bigger role, especially with the freshmen. I'm trying to show them what to do so they can do it when they become seniors," Johnson said.
His athletic ability is easily seen. For two years he was the goalkeeper for the Pioneers' soccer, and last spring he decided to try baseball and quickly became the starting catcher. He is a state champion wrestler.
It's likely that folks will see more of him this fall because he'll remain a starter at linebacker but he'll also be contributing offensively.
"Yeah, that's what I'm hearing. Right now I'm focused on defense. I've always played linebacker," Johnson said.
Yet Malone is adding to the plans. No more resting up with defensive mates after they've made a stop.
"I have not done a good job of using him the last two years," the coach said. "He's a talent and, yes, we've played him on defense, but I haven't done enough with him on offense and that's changing. He'll carry a bigger load for us. He's a good blocker. Our fullbacks are more inside-the-tackle runners, and our tailbacks are more outside guys.
"DeAngelo gives us that physical inside-run presence, but he also can line up in the slot and make plays."
- Ward Gossett
EAST RIDGE PIONEERS
Head coach: Tracy Malone (33-51 overall; 8-13 in two years here)
Last year: 5-6; lost to Hixson in first round of Class 4A playoffs
Returning starters (O/D/K): 6/9/0
(all games at 7:30 Eastern)
Aug. 22 - at Walker Valley
Aug. 29 - Notre Dame
Sept. 5 - Central*
Sept. 12 - at Polk County
Sept. 19 - Brainerd*
Sept. 26 - at Loudon
Oct. 3 - Hixson*
Oct. 10 - at Red Bank*
Oct. 24 - at Tyner*
Oct. 31 - Howard*
Control panel: QB JoJo Tillery (6-1, 180, Sr.) will double up at times and play some at free safety; he had more than 2,000 yards of total offense a year ago. WR/LB Monquel Hughes (5-10, 170, Sr.) and RB/DB Dominique Millener (5-6, 170, Jr.) also will have an impact on each side of the ball. "They have all been in the program for a while now and all are dedicated and responsible," Malone said. "They know what it takes to be successful, and they have done a good job of holding everybody accountable."
New producers: A basketball and baseball starter, CB Jesse Jones (5-9, 170, Jr.) is looking to make his mark in football, and his natural athletic ability also could land him some time as a wideout. Malone said RB/DB Dquantis Jones (5-6, 160, Jr.) had yet to make his mark, "but I've seen him mature into a sound, tough runner." WR/LB Quasey Vinson (6-0, 175, Jr.) has matured physically and is "bigger, faster, stronger and the most improved player on the team," according to the coach.
As the Pioneers approached the season, the only position that wasn't up for grabs was that of quarterback with Tillery, who started a handful of games as a sophomore before taking the job full-time last fall. "We have 64 players and all are competing for playing time," Malone said. It's the first time he's had actual depth, and he's making the most of it despite returning 15 of last year's 22 starters.
Malone lost defensive coordinator Mark Teague when Teague took the head coaching job at Howard. He brought in Hubert Roberson, a former Bledsoe County head coach, to take over the defense. East Ridge also hired Randall Boldin, who had been a volunteer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, to coach defensive backs and to take over the Pioneers' baseball program.
East Ridge has advanced to the playoffs in four of the last six seasons, but the last time the Pioneers won a playoff game was in 2001 when they went 10-2 including a first-round postseason win over Knoxville Halls. They lost the next week in overtime, 35-34 to Rhea County.