“You dream of having opportunities like this,” Johnson said. “You can’t let the hype, the media or what they’re saying in the newspapers get to you. But you recognize it’s a big game, the biggest game. You don’t want to come this far and lose. You just don’t. You know how this goes: people don’t remember who finished second, they remember who won the championship.” — Bonita running back Giomani Johnson
By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
Bonita High School running back Giomani Johnson was sitting at his table when Fox Sports analyst Chris McGee spoke at Monday’s CIF-Southern Section champions luncheon in Long Beach. McGee repeated a famous quote U.S. hockey coach Herb Brooks delivered to his team before beating the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics in what many consider the greatest upset in the history of American sports. Brooks said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” Johnson was listening and has been taking advantage of his chances during the Bearcats’ playoff run. (To continue click thread).
West Covina routed Bonita 55-21 in October to claim the Hacienda League title, but the stakes are greater Friday when Bonita (12-1) gets its rematch against West Covina (12-1) in the Southeast Division championship at Walnut High.
“It registered,” Johnson said of Brooks’ words. “You don’t get a lot of second opportunities in life, and when you do you have to take advantage of it.”
You can imagine the thoughts racing through his mind as he approaches game time. After all, his favorite movies are “Friday Night Lights” and “Remember the Titans.”
“You dream of having opportunities like this,” Johnson said. “You can’t let the hype, the media or what they’re saying in the newspapers get to you.
“But you recognize it’s a big game, the biggest game. You don’t want to come this far and lose. You just don’t. You know how this goes: people don’t remember who finished second, they remember who won the championship.”
While West Covina boasts five backs who average almost a combined 400 yards a game, Johnson checks in averaging just 46 yards (598 yards this season) and also plays linebacker.
Johnson hasn’t had to average a ton of yards, not with quarterback Garrett Pendleton averaging 186 yards passing with 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
The Bearcats are averaging 38 points a game, but as Johnson learned in their first meeting against the Bulldogs – when he was held to just 42 yards – this is no time of the season to have so-so performances.
When Bonita struggled in the quarterfinals against Muir, Johnson turned in his best offensive performance of the season, rushing for 100 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-25 victory that was close until the final minutes.
In the semifinals against La Serna, Johnson recovered a blocked field goal and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown to tie the score 7-7 late in the first half.
And it was Johnson who provided the exclamation point with a 1-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to seal a 21-16 victory over the Lancers.
As Bonita coach Eric Podley explained, you don’t luck into those situations. You create them and seize the opportunities.
“In previous years you wouldn’t have pictured him being a contributor or leader the way he has emerged,” Podley said. “But he wants that role, and he pushes him and his teammates in that role.
“You have to give him a lot of credit. Not a lot of kids like to embrace that, but he has, and you have to have guys like that on your team when you’re fighting for a championship.”
Pendleton was sacked six times by West Covina and the Bearcats rushed for just 69 yards.
Johnson knows that won’t get it done Friday.
“It’s very important that we run the ball and establish something,” Johnson said. “(Pendleton) has more confidence in his passing when we have a running game. It opens everything up for him.
“If we make them respect our run, it opens up the rest of our offense.”
Even though Johnson is a player who’s rushed for 100 yards only once this season – in the quarterfinals against Muir – he realizes he’ll need a similar game if the Bearcats are going to win their first championship since 1999 and fifth overall.
“I know I have to step up, and I’m ready for that,” Johnson said. “And part of my job as a leader is making sure everyone else steps up, too. I try to set a good example day in and day out. Even on campus I’m trying to set an example and keep the right mindset.”
Podley said those types of players are invaluable.
“The players respect him, and it’s not all about football,” said Podley, who gingerly has been moving around on campus because of an ailing back.
“Even in my situation in a classroom he makes sure everything’s all right. He asks If I need anything. I’m not the only one who gets that treatment; he treats everyone that way.”
Johnson said West Covina has his respect, too. He’s not predicting the Bearcats will stop the Bulldogs’ vaunted running attack or that he foresees a victory, but he is making one prediction.
“There won’t be any what ifs,” Johnson said. “They’re going to have to beat my 110 percent. They’re going to have to beat our 110 percent as a team.
“It’s that simple, we’re coming to play. If they win it, they’re going to earn it.”