I’ll have a story on Monrovia’s Ellis McCarthy in Tuesday’s paper. But here’s a story I also wanted to share, this one regarding running back Derrick Johnson. I caught up with Derrick after Monday’s practice to talk about the knee injury suffered in the CIF-Southern Section Mid Valley Division championship game, his recovery and his role on the field.
There’s never a good time for an injury, but if Monrovia’s Derrick Johnson had his druthers, he certainly would have preferred that deep bruise in his left knee at any time but the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division championship game last December against San Dimas.
Johnson, a senior-to-be, suffered the injury in the second quarter when his knee was caught in a pile. It was initially feared that Johnson had torn his ACL, but Johnson learned the extent of his injury when he arrived at Methodist Hospital in Arcadia. Johnson spent two hours at the hospital, and it was there where he learned from a nurse that Monrovia lost to San Dimas. He didn’t know the final score, no less how the Wildcats almost pulled off a dramatic comeback in the fourth quarter thanks to Nick Bueno’s relentless push.
Johnson found out in the most unusual of ways.
“I was in the bed alone when the nurse walked in,” Johnson said. “She said, ‘Oh, you’re a Monrovia football player. My nephew plays for San Dimas.'” It wasn’t long before Johnson was delivered the news, by the nurse who did so in a polite way.
“She just said ‘I’m sorry you guys didn’t win,'” Johnson recalled. “I wasn’t mad that she told me. How could I be mad? I was mad at myself because I felt I let my team down. I wanted to go back into the game after the injury, but they wouldn’t let me. I felt I could.”
Johnson said he was heavily medicated, so his reaction was subtle, if that. He spent two months in intense physical therapy. Before he knew it, Johnson was back on the field trying to regain his prowess that led him to 648 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. As a hard-nosed linebacker, Johnson recorded 94 tackles, 61 of which were solo tackles.
Johnson looked sharp during Monrovia’s fall camp opener Monday morning at Cliffton Middle School. He looked more lean and had a quicker step to his game. Johnson was a straight-up-the-middle kind of back as a junior, bouncing off tackles and extending for extra yardage. But there was a noticeable first-step explosion Monday. Granted it was only practice, Johnson opted to use his speed and head for the wings instead of taking the rock down the middle.
“I feel faster and stronger,” Johnson said. “If my team needs me to pound for yardage, I’ll do that. If they need me to run outside, I can do that, too.”
Monrovia coach Ryan Maddox was impressed in other aspects, too.
“He’s come full circle in the two years,” Maddox said. “He’s grown tremendously. His leadership and work ethic is great. He and Nick (Bueno) are the two most respected leaders on our football team.”