By Jonathan Deal
Opposing coaches’ offensive gameplans were simple when playing Athens this season: Find out where No. 5 is and run the other way. That would be Athens No. 5 Johnnie Anderson, who struck fear into opposing teams all season no matter where he lined up.
“We feel pretty confident in wherever we play Johnnie,” said Athens head coach Allen Creasy. “He is such a physical player, we weren’t hesitant about moving him around.”
Creasy moved Anderson around this season. From the secondary to linebacker to quarterback, the versatile junior helped his team any way he could. For his efforts on the field this season, Anderson is the News Courier’s Defensive Player of the Year for 2012. While Athens did not have the season it would have liked to, the defense was the strength of the team, led by Anderson.
“He is a quiet guy and he leads by example,” Creasy said. “Johnnie is a much better person than he is a football player. He makes everybody want to play better. He made plays in every big game that gave us a chance to be competitive and in a position to win games.”
The junior finished with 88 tackles, 8 tackles-for-loss, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three pass break-ups and a touchdown fumble recovery. Missing from that list?
That’s because teams won’t throw the ball toward the ball-hawking safety.
“If there was one player from Athens I could go over and hand-pick, that would be the guy,” Pugh said. “Not only is he a good football player. Never saw him doing anything that’s not a class act. He loves the game and you can tell it. He’s a smart player. That’s one thing going into the Athens game, we always knew where Johnnie Anderson was. He’s that kind of player that is difference maker for them.”
Anderson began the season where he had the previous year — roaming the secondary for the Golden Eagles. The junior has been a mainstay for the Athens defense since stepping on campus his freshman year.
“There wasn’t any question,” Creasy said about playing him as a freshman. “He came in playing varsity from the day one. He has an instinct for game that you can’t coach.
“He sees the game, he sees the field, he has an understanding of how things are going to unfold. He has a knack for being around the ball”
As good as he was on defense, Anderson was needed on the other side of the ball to provide a spark for an offense that had sputtered through a tough stretch during the middle of the season.
“The first time I was moved to receiver, it was rough. I wasn’t used to getting so many plays,” Anderson said. “But towards the end, I got used to it. I like playing offense. I got the opportunity to put points on the board and help my team in any way I could.”
Following a 41-9 win over West Point, Athens was set to host No. 1 Hartselle in one of the most anticipated games of the season. Anderson had one of the best games of his career, playing receiver along with every snap on defense as Athens nearly pulled off the upset.
“I just wanted to do whatever I could to help,” Anderson said. “The whole offseason, that was the team I was waiting to play. I wish I could have done more to help us win.”
After scoring his first offensive touchdown of his career, Anderson became a part of the offensive gameplan for the rest of the season as a receiver. But the move to offense didn’t stop there. The hard-hitting safety was moved to quarterback following a loss to Cullman late in the season.
“It was closer to the end of that week (after the Cullman game) I was out there catching balls with receivers and coach Flippo came up to me and ask me if coach Creasy talked to me about playing quarterback,” Anderson said. “He told me to go warm up with quarterbacks. They told me I wouldn’t do a whole lot of passing at first, just running the ball.”
Anderson played quarterback for most of the game in a 17-0 win over Lawrence County that snapped a six game losing streak. The new signal caller followed that up with a 33-0 win over 6A Sparkman to close the season.
“It felt good, it was a little late though,” Anderson said. “I felt like we could have done that all season. It was good to get the seniors a win on the last game.”
Anderson said he hopes that momentum will carry into the offseason where he looks to be the unquestioned leader of the team in 2013.
“I want to lead the team,” said Anderson. “Lead the team the right way. Make it hard for people to stop us and go out there and win more games.”