Through the halls of Los Angeles Dorsey have strolled some of the most skilled football players to emerge from the Southland. Stafon Johnson has walked in the shadows of many.
Taking advantage of the access provided by his father, Stan, a longtime assistant track and field coach at Dorsey, Johnson stood knee-high alongside future NFL players Lamont Warren, who led the Dons to the City Section title as a junior in 1989, Sharmon Shah (Karim Abdul-Jabbar), the catalyst on the 1991 championship team, and Keyshawn Johnson.
He was in the huddle in 1995, handing water bottles to Dennis Northcutt, Antonio Chatman and Raymont Skaggs as they led Dorsey to another City title, and he stood on the sideline four years ago when the Dons posted their most remarkable victory, scoring on a blocked punt with seven seconds left to win the championship.
“I remember one time, it was a camp and I was just stretching with some of the players,” Johnson said. “That was all I needed, I thought I was part of the team.”
Today, Johnson continues to mirror those great players. Considered one of the nation’s elite ballcarriers and a highly rated prospect at defensive back, Johnson appears destined to continue his promising career at the college level and, possibly, the NFL.
But he isn’t ready to choose his next team. Not when his most important goal is directly ahead: a chance to win a championship. That drive has been fueled the last two years as the Dons lost in the semifinals in 2003 and the finals last season.
“All my years, I’ve been getting a step closer to winning the championship,” Johnson said. “In order to be known as one of the greatest players to come out of Dorsey, I have to get a ring.”
Johnson rushed for 1,839 yards and had 18 touchdowns last season. Impressive statistics considering he shared backfield duties with Jeremiah Johnson, who is not a relative but who rushed for 1,615 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.
With Jeremiah now a freshman at Oregon, much of the weight will fall on Stafon, who stands 5 feet 11 and weighs 200 pounds.
Eric Scott, the offensive coordinator at Coliseum League rival L.A. Crenshaw, watched Johnson rush for 184 yards and a touchdown, return a kickoff 88 yards for another score and make two interceptions in a 29-15 win by the Dons last season in a City semifinal.
“He’s the dagger,” said Scott, who played wide receiver at Northwestern and UCLA. “He’s the guy you need to stop.”
But Scott also said it might be easier to corral Johnson this season because his legs won’t be as fresh.
“That 1-2 punch was a killer,” Scott said of Stafon and Jeremiah. “He can’t come off the field this year.”
Said Dorsey Coach Paul Knox: “He’s ready to go.... This year he’s going to have to take that load and carry the whole thing on his shoulders. We know he’s capable of that, but the players around him have to be able to elevate their games and take some of the pressure off of him.”
Knox said Johnson might even play some at quarterback, operating out of the shotgun formation.
“It’s a possibility,” said Knox, in his 21st season at the school. “We have two other quarterbacks coming back though.”
Johnson has taken care of academics while at Dorsey. He could graduate at the end of the first semester and leave early for college. That would allow him to participate in spring football and also get a head start toward earning a degree.
“One side of my mind is telling me to ride it out, the other is saying, ‘Why stay?’ ” Johnson said. “It’s like a tug of war.”
But Johnson still needs to choose a college, something he doesn’t expect to do until the season ends. He’s reported to be a prime target of USC, but he also has athletic scholarship offers from UCLA, California, Miami, Florida, Louisiana State and Tennessee.
Of those schools, only Miami is recruiting Johnson as a safety. Johnson played defense full time for the final two games last season.
He won’t discount playing defense in college but said he probably would choose a school recruiting him at running back.
“I’m a [running] back first,” Johnson said. “But I have to keep it open, I don’t want to burn any bridges.”
Just one more lesson learned from watching those before him.
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How they rate
A look at the top running backs in the Southland:
*--* Rk Player, School Ht. Wt. Yr. Comment 1. Stafon Johnson, 5-11 200 Sr. USC’s No. 1 recruiting Dorsey target 2. C.J. Gable, Sylmar 6-1 190 Sr. Averaged 11.1 yards per carry 3. Ken Ashley, Venice 5-8 208 Sr. Let’s see who can tackle him 4. Ricky Thenarse, 6-0 175 Sr. Runs away from defensive Jordan backs 5. Gregory Ray, 5-8 185 Sr. Averaged 12.1 yards per Westchester carry 6. R.J. Garrett, 6-0 230 Sr. Committed to California Crenshaw 7. Andre Harris, Taft 6-0 200 Sr. Palisades transfer has speed 8. Patrick Hill, Fairfax 5-10 230 Sr. Tough to bring down 9. Major Culbert, 6-0 195 Sr. Can run over defenders Narbonne 10. Milton Knox, 5-8 190 So. Made difference as a Birmingham freshman 11. Jesse Rivers, 6-1 170 Jr. Three-sport athlete with Hollywood speed 12. Fred Winborn, Grant 5-11 190 Jr. Has lots of talent
*--* Rk Player, School Ht. Wt. Yr. Comment 1. Chane Moline, 6-1 230 Sr. Has size, speed, strength Mission Viejo 2. Toby Gerhart, Norco 6-1 228 Sr. Could set career rushing record 3. Rodney Glass, SO 5-10 175 Sr. Second-fastest in the state Notre Dame 4. Marc Tyler, Oaks 6-1 210 Jr. Averaged 16.4 yards per Christian carry 5. Leilyon Myers, 6-1 195 Sr. Rushed for 1,347 yards, 19 Lynwood TDs 6. Shane Vereen, 5-10 180 Jr. Scored 28 TDs as a Valencia sophomore 7. Jeff Rapoport, 5-11 185 Sr. Fast, versatile two-sport Westlake standout 8. Davon Brown, South 5-9 170 Sr. Makes big plays Torrance 9. Audarrius Bailey, 5-8 170 Sr. Rushed for 1,590 yards Arcadia 10. R.J. Sanford, Chino 6-1 175 Sr. Averaged 8.8 yards per carry 11. Troy Guthrie, Long 5-9 190 Sr. Rushed for 1,416 yards Beach Poly 12. P.J. Vallier, 5-9 205 Sr. Rushed for 1,755 yards Trabuco Hills 13. Charles Neal, 6-2 200 Jr. Big, tough, bruising runner Esperanza 14. Michael Moore, 6-1 185 Sr. Ready for big season Canyon Springs 15. Ricardo Galvez, 5-7 165 Sr. Rushed for 2,353 yards Cathedral 16. Ray Rangel, Servite 5-9 190 Sr. Could be best in Serra League 17. Jeff Quinn, Tustin 6-1 205 Sr. Rushed for 1,639 yards 18. Matthew Contreras, 5-8 185 So. Gained 1,498 yards as a Orange freshman 19. Daniel Bernal, HH 5-9 165 Jr. Rushed for 1,328 as a Wilson sophomore 20. Justin Robertson, 5-11 227 Sr. Loves to run over Lakewood defensive players 21. Miles Edman, Malibu 5-11 160 Sr. Rushed for 1,599, 19 TDs 22. Corey Nolan, Diamond 5-9 185 Sr. Tough, hard-nosed Ranch ballcarrrier 23 Marquies Winbush, 5-8 190 Sr. Rushed for 1,124 yards South Hills 24. Ron Hampton, 5-7 155 Sr. Gained 1,340 yards Twentynine Plms 25. Elijah Wesson, 5-10 180 Sr. A fast, exciting tailback Dominguez 26. Jon Alesandro, 5-10 185 Sr. Rushed for 1,437 yards Chaffey 27. Lonyae Miller, Kaiser 6-0 205 Sr. Transfer with excellent talent 28. Delano Howell, Hart 5-11 175 So. Could be best sophomore in state 29. Spencer Rodney, 6-2 220 Sr. Rushed for 1,771 yards Rosamond 30. Philip Adam, SM St. 6-0 200 Sr. Figures to score lots of Joseph TDs 31. Darnell Scott, 6-2 185 So. Will be significant player Moorpark 32. Derron Juarez, 5-10 180 Sr. Has speed, big-play skills Chaminade 33. Kyle Crisp, Rancho 6-0 195 Sr. Upland transfer is ready Cucamonga to perform
Compiled by Eric Sondheimer