Eastbound and down: Dixon departee enjoying new football family
AMBOY – Anyone who saw Spencer Johnson play football as an underclassman likely wouldn’t recognize him now.
He’s at a new school, having left Dixon for Amboy in the fall of 2010.
He’s got a new and improved body, having added 35 pounds of muscle to what was an admittedly scrawny frame.
And he’s got what he views as a new lease on life, when it comes to football.
He was a two-way starter for the Dixon fresh-soph team 2 years ago, but didn’t like the way the Dukes’ program was headed at the time. That led Johnson to Amboy, where his father, Andy, was a player for the Clippers in the late 1980s.
Andy Johnson wanted his sons, Tyler and Spencer, to have the same Amboy football experience he had, so he moved to Harmon, within the Amboy school district, about 2 years ago.
Spencer Johnson’s first look at an Amboy football game was the 2010 Class 2A first-round game against Newman in Rock Falls. The Clippers, who got crushed by the Comets in the regular season, put up a mighty battle before falling 14-7 to the eventual state champs.
Johnson took it all in, and knew he had found his football home when he attended his first classes at the school 2 days after that game.
“They gave it everything they had and came up just short,” Johnson said. “There’s that saying, ‘Nothing is ever enough. You can always give a little more.’ I saw that, and it really motivated me to work harder.”
Tyler Johnson and Spencer Johnson were both two-way starters for Amboy a year ago, Spencer starting at running back and cornerback. But they were unable to prevent the Clippers from being in an unusual position. They went 4-5, ending a run of 10 straight playoff appearances.
A 34-27, season-ending win over Ottawa Marquette did little to take away the sting.
“It was senior night, and everybody was kind of bummed, even though we won, because we weren’t going to the playoffs,” Johnson said. “That just motivated me in every aspect of getting better.”
That meant total dedication. Johnson lifted weights for 2 to 3 hours at a time, 7 days a week, most of the time with his linemen. Amboy coach Gary Jones took notice.
“He’s got a great attitude, and he works hit butt off in the weight room,” Jones said. “Other kids see that, and you get that rippling effect from that.”
When Johnson was done lifting at school, he’d do the same at home on weekends with his father.
“Dad would be yelling at me, ‘You can do one more. You can do one more,’ “ Johnson said. “He never stopped. He never let off the gas.”
Johnson was one of a dozen or so Clippers who went to a speed camp in the Quad Cities this summer. Last spring, Johnson ran track instead of playing baseball, again to increase his speed.
In school, when Johnson had free time in study hall, he worked it out with Coach Jones to watch game film on a projector set up in the team’s equipment room.
There were also more personal sacrifices. He cut out soda, instead going with water and Gatorade. He downed foods heavy on proteins and amino acids, and now tips the scales at a cut 165 pounds.
“I’m pretty excited, but I don’t think I can let that get to me,” Johnson said. “It’s a cliche, but I’ve just got to take it day by day, and work harder each day.”
Johnson’s numbers last year were good, with 147 carries for a team-high 813 yards and seven touchdowns, along with nine receptions for 60 yards. Even if he dwarfs those statistics this season, it will mean little without a trip to the playoffs.
“We just expected to get into the playoffs, because we’ve done that for so many years,” Johnson said. “We didn’t really go out there and play with everything that we had. That won’t happen this season.”
2011: 4-5 (4-5 Big Rivers)
Coach: Gary Jones (20th season)
Season opener: Aug. 24 at Riverdale
FYI: The Clippers had a string of 10 consecutive playoff appearances snapped with last season’s 4-5 mark. ... Jones is 110-84 in 19 years as head coach.