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Riverview football rising junior is a rising football star

DJ Johnson will play on both sides of the ball for the Rams this fall.

Riverview's DJ Johnson has set a goal of 1,500 yards for the 2023 season.
Riverview's DJ Johnson has set a goal of 1,500 yards for the 2023 season.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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DJ Johnson runs downhill, and he runs to hit. 

It's part of what makes coaches like Riverview High offensive coordinator Brody Wiseman so excited about his potential. Johnson was the Rams' most effective runner last year, totaling 661 yards and eight touchdowns on 168 carries, approximately half of the team's total carries. He did so with teams keying on the running game: the Rams' passing attack generated just 805 yards in 2022. 

Yet Johnson was overlooked, partially because of other backs in the area, partially because of the Rams' 5-7 record, and partially because when people watched Rams games, they often watched for five-star cornerback and wide receiver Charles Lester III; Lester has since announced his transfer to Venice High. 

In 2023, Johnson plans on changing the narrative around himself while also elevating his team. And he has big goals. 

"I want 1,500 yards and the school record," Johnson said. 

Johnson isn't only planning on an elite offense year: the Rams are going to play him at safety, he said, and he's just as excited about laying hits on people as he is pounding in touchdowns at the goal line. 

Can he achieve all his goals? Wiseman believes it's a possibility. 

"He's one of the better players in the area, but no one talks about him," Wiseman said. "In our spring game, he was the best player on the field for us. He had nearly 100 yards rushing on 11 carries and he had a pick six. He's just one of those guys." 

The Rams won their spring game 35-21 over Lehigh High on May 26. Johnson and the Rams hope it was just a taste of what he'll bring to the field come fall. 

Rams senior running back DJ Johnson has set a goal to run for 1,500 yards in 2023.
File photo

Johnson attends Sarasota Military Academy for school but represents the Rams athletically, since SMA does not have a football program. Wiseman said Johnson's military training has helped him become vocal in the team's locker room despite just now entering his junior year. 

"He's figuring out how to lead," Wiseman said. "He has all the qualities and abilities. Moving forward, he's going to be a huge piece of that for us." 

It shows in Johnson's words and actions. Johnson said his favorite moment from last season was not any particular play he made, but the team's win over Lehigh on Sept. 16 — a game in which he did not play because of an injury. 

"We had a bad start to the season last year," Johnson said. "The Lehigh game was our first win. We needed that one. After we got it, we came back and won some games and finished well. 

Johnson said he spent the game encouraging his teammates on the sideline while also giving them space when necessary. Learning that balance is crucial to becoming the leader he wants to be, he said. 

Part of that is staying on the field. Johnson, who is 5-foot-10 according to MaxPreps, does not want to miss any games because of injury, as much as he enjoys seeing his teammates succeed, and by his own admission, he took a beating last year. That's why he is spending the offseason bulking up, both in strength and in weight, with a goal weight of 185 pounds. He's at 180 pounds as of June 20. That weight, Johnson said, will allow him to maximize the amount of hits he's able to take — while also amplifying the damage he's able to do while lowering his shoulder, both on offense and defense. 

If he can do that, his teammates will help take care of the rest. 

"I have a great offensive line in front of me," Johnson said. "I just have to run behind them." 

Johnson has been playing football since he was young, starting his career with the Sarasota Seminoles youth organization. He played safety first, he said, and added running back to his resume when he was 12. He played other sports, like basketball, baseball, track and field, even wrestling. He still plays some of them for fun. But football, Johnson said, takes precedent. 

"We're brothers out here," Johnson said. "The coaches connect with us well. It's just different." 

Wiseman, who in his first season with the Rams after serving as the head coach at Sarasota High for three seasons, said Johnson's running style is a mix of two backs he coached with the Sailors last season, Jaden Judge and Joe Ziegler, taking Ziegler's bruiser tendencies and Judge's elusiveness. In Wiseman's offense, the backs combined for 1,477 yards in 2022, so Johnson's goal of 1,500 yards is no pipe dream. 

Riverview High offensive coordinator Brody Wiseman, the former head coach at Sarasota High, expects big things out of DJ Johnson in 2023.
File photo

"I've known about him for a while," said Wiseman, whose Sailors teams played rival Riverview every year. "He's such a physical player. I remember on one run in the playoff game (last season), one of our safeties — who was a really good player for us — came up and met DJ in the hole. He knocked that kid into the next week. Even last year, he wasn't the biggest kid in the world, but he played like he was 200 pounds. He's a throwback in that way." 

Wiseman compared Johnson to Jimmy Butler of the NBA's Miami Heat, in that both Johnson and Butler will fight for every yard or basket they get with high intensity, never letting their motor drop and sometimes willing themselves to success. 

Don't expect Johnson to get 30 carries a game for the Rams. Wiseman said the team wants to keep his load manageable, especially since he'll be playing safety as well. But as he showed in the spring game, Johnson can do a lot with only a handful of carries. 

By the end of the season, Wiseman expects that Johnson's name will be in a lot more people's heads than it is now, and that the program will be the well-oiled machine it has been for several seasons. 

"I'm excited," Wiseman said. "I like where we are at. I think we've had a little disrespect. People seem to think there's not a program going on here anymore. But we have a good football team and a lot of good kids."



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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