Johnson & Johnson

Times Staff Writer

They grew to be some of the most anticipated football games of the fall. It didn’t matter that Jeremiah Johnson and Stafon Johnson were years from entering high school. When their youth football teams met on a Saturday afternoon, word traveled as fast as they did.

The neighborhood still looks forward to watching its latest athletic marvels, only Jeremiah and Stafon, who are not related, now share the same backfield for Los Angeles Dorsey. They’re in their second season starting side by side for the Dons (5-1), ranked No. 13 in the Southland by The Times.

“We used to get some huge crowds, and all the crowds were really into the game -- it was really electrifying,” said Sabrina Pumphrey, Jeremiah’s mother, of the youth games.


Through six games, including a 51-0 victory over host L.A. Manual Arts in a Coliseum League opener Friday afternoon, Stafon has rushed for 764 yards and six touchdowns in 82 carries, and Jeremiah has gained 516 yards and six touchdowns in 71 carries.

Against Manual Arts (1-5), Jeremiah had seven carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns, and Stafon added 121 yards in nine carries.

Working together last season, Jeremiah and Stafon helped lead the Dons to a 12-1 record and the City Section semifinals, where they lost, 19-18, to eventual champion Carson. Stafon rushed for 1,464 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, and Jeremiah totaled 1,247 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Some claim Jeremiah and Stafon represent the section’s best backfield duo since former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White and Kevin Williams spearheaded San Fernando’s vaunted wishbone attack in the mid-1970s.

“The best tandem I’ve seen in years,” said Robert Garrett, in his 18th season coaching No. 18 L.A. Crenshaw, which plays at Dorsey in a key Coliseum League game Oct. 29.

In 20 years at the Dorsey helm, Paul Knox has coached more than a dozen players who went on to play in the NFL, many at offensive skill positions. From 1988 to ‘91, his string of ballcarriers included Beno Bryant, Lamont Warren and Sharmon Shah, who later changed his name to Karim Abdul-Jabbar. All played in the NFL.


The team that won a City title in 1995 had four players rotating in its backfield, including current Cleveland Brown receiver Dennis Northcutt and Green Bay Packer return specialist Antonio Chatman.

“We have a little experience in using two great backs,” said Knox, who has led the Dons to four City titles. “We know how to get both the ball and get production.”

Jeremiah, a 5-10, 185-pound senior, is lauded for his ability to change direction without losing speed. In a 21-14 victory over No. 22 Lake Balboa Birmingham last week, he flashed those skills on an 89-yard kickoff return.

“He made about eight guys miss,” said Birmingham Coach Ed Croson.

Stafon, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, also possesses superior speed and cutback ability, but is more likely to challenge a tackler head on.

“His game is power,” Jeremiah said. “He’ll run you over in a minute.”

Stafon rushed for 116 yards in 17 carries and scored a touchdown in the victory over Birmingham. He also had a team-high 135 yards in 10 carries three weeks earlier in a 27-7 victory over Southern Section Division I Santa Margarita.

Neither player has a problem sharing the ball or the limelight, even if it’s with a former rival.


“It gives us a great one-two punch,” Stafon said. “The defense can’t really anticipate who’s getting the ball.”

Sharing the workload on offense also keeps them fresh as the game wears on, particularly since both play defense.

“If one guy was doing all the ball carrying and playing defense, he might be worn down by the fourth quarter,” Knox said.

Jeremiah’s lone scholarship offer is from Oregon, where his brother, Jerome, is a freshman fullback. Jeremiah said he believes his services will come into demand before February’s signing date. Arizona State, which plays at USC today, likes him as a cornerback. The Sun Devils had a representative scouting from the sideline during the Birmingham game.

“Jeremiah is a Division I cover corner,” Croson said.

Stafon is also considered a prospect. His name should be near the top of most scouting lists come next spring.

Regardless of their college opportunities, both have proved to be among the top running backs in the Southland -- and certainly among the best to share the same backfield in years.


It’s easy to see why they’ve been causing defenses to see double.

“You think you wore one down, or one is getting a breather,” Garrett said, “and, uh-oh, here comes the other one.”