It will probably get him to college.
A 134-pound senior on the Lions’ wrestling team, Johnson once dreamt of becoming a mixed-martial arts fighter and figured that wrestling was a logical start. But unlike many of his teammates who came through Liberty’s youth program, Johnson had never grappled before he stepped on campus.
That first year on the freshman team was rough, but Johnson stuck with it. By the end of the season, he made his way to Greg Chappel’s varsity squad.
“It was nothing that I expected,” Johnson said. “I had never even watched a real wrestling match before. I actually used to think it was not a cool sport.”
Johnson credited two Liberty alumni – David Klingsheim and Anthony Thurgood, both family friends – with motivating him to gut it out. Both wrestlers went on to compete in college – Klingsheim at Nebraska, Thurgood at Sierra College. This is a goal that Johnson now shares, and has set schools such as Arizona State and Hofstra in his sights.
Johnson no longer desires the gory glory of MMA fighting, but rather a degree in manufacturing engineering.
Chappel feels that Johnson’s acumen both in the ring and the classroom will get him wherever he wants to go after Liberty. “He’s come so far,” Chappel said. “I still think he’s got a big growth curve if he goes to college, and he wants to.”
After learning wrestling techniques in his freshman year, Johnson excelled in his sophomore season. He placed an impressive seventh in the 125-pound bracket at the North Coast Section tournament that year, an experience that made him yearn for more success. It was then that Johnson knew he’d be a wrestler throughout his time at Liberty.
Johnson continued to excel in his junior season, turning in a third-place finish at NCS. He defeated Dougherty Valley senior Ken Geraldi in the consolation bracket to qualify for the state tournament.
This year, Johnson doesn’t want to make just an appearance at the California Interscholastic Federation meet – he wants to win. So far, he’s been battling opponents in a weight class higher than usual, but Chappel has been impressed with his effort as he takes on some of the state’s most talented wrestlers. “He’s a good enough athlete and a good enough wrestler,” Chappel said, “that if he can get the right draw, maybe catch someone who’s a little flat – anything like that happens, you sneak your way in as a medalist.”
While he has taken some lumps against tough competition, Johnson has found success this season. Starting the year as a 157-pounder, he went 5-0 in a meet at Natomas, near Sacramento. He slimmed down to 145 for Liberty’s Lou Bronzan Tournament, where he was named the Most Valuable Wrestler.
Johnson is currently ranked 19th in the state and second in the section in the 138-pound category, according to The California Wrestler, a comprehensive high school wrestling website.
“I think that I’ve put a lot of things together, from my takedowns to my pinning combinations,” Johnson said. “I definitely want to win league again, but then I really want to become a North Coast Section champion and help our team win a North Coast Section title.”