When St. Anthony made the move to hire legendary Ed Stinson as its new football coach last spring, returning senior Herb Johnson welcomed the change.
“I felt he was coming in with a strong reputation and background,” said Johnson, who played varsity football the prior two seasons before Stinson’s arrival. “I felt like he was going to change things around. With his experience getting a ton of players into college, I figured he could change me a lot as an athlete.”
Stinson didn’t know much about the team he inherited, but he saw something in Johnson.
“When we were ready to go to the weight room, some of the kids introduced themselves to me,” Stinson said. “On a daily basis, Herb was there and I could tell just by the way he carried himself that he was a player. He wasn’t the ‘rah-rah’ type, but he was a quiet leader who did his job every day.”
Stinson has been nothing but impressed with Johnson from the beginning.
“We select team captains on a weekly basis and he’s been a captain every week,” Stinson said. “He’s doing his job in the classroom and on the field.”
The Friars hadn’t exactly enjoyed a successful season with some tough early season losses.
“It was a little struggle for the team at some points,” Johnson said. “It was pretty bad.”
There were three straight losses to start the season, two via shutout. There was an emotional setback at Hoboken, in Stinson’s return to his old stomping grounds.
But the 24-13 loss to the Red Wings changed the mentality of the Friars.
“We had a lot of confidence and intensity moving forward,” Johnson said. “Losing to Hoboken was a humbling experience, but we knew we could come back and face Lincoln.”
It wasn’t an easy task, considering the high-powered Lions had won all six of their prior games in impressive fashion, including lopsided wins over Hoboken and Hudson Catholic, teams that had already knocked off the Friars.
No one gave the Friars a chance _ except Johnson and his teammates.
“We were really motivated,” Johnson said. “We just had to focus and go out there and get the win.”
Before the game, Johnson had a long talk with his father, Herb, Sr., who was a fine player during his days at Snyder High School.
“My Dad knew that this was a big game,” Johnson said. “He said that big players make the big plays in big games. I hadn’t been getting recognized as a big player, that I was still underrated. It was my time to step up and help us get a big win.”
Sure enough, Johnson had the game of a lifetime.
He carried the ball 19 times for 106 yards and scored two touchdowns, but his biggest contribution came on an 82-yard touchdown reception from Alex Vidal that provided the upstart Friars with the impetus to gain a 25-24 upset win over the previously undefeated Lions.
For his efforts, Johnson has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“I’m very happy with him,” Stinson said of Johnson. “He doesn’t come off the field. I only get to talk to him before the game, at halftime and after the game. He plays offense, defense and special teams. He’s our punt returner, our kick returner. He plays outstanding defense as our cornerback. He’s just a producer and this was a quality performance. He came up very big.”
The win also kept the 3-4 Friars’ hopes of qualifying for an NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoff berth alive.
“He’s a good player,” Stinson said. “He’s fast. I mean, he ran away from the Lincoln defenders on that touchdown pass. In the fourth quarter, we were backed up in our own end. It was a play action pass and Herb caught it and took it the last 50 yards, running away from the defenders.”
Johnson was impressed with his touchdown catch.
“It was amazing,” Johnson said. “I thought at first he [Vidal] might have overthrown it, but I was able to go get the ball and go. I couldn’t believe they couldn’t catch me.”
Johnson realized the importance of the win.
“People definitely underestimated us,” Johnson said. “No one thought we could win. We were playing an undefeated team. But we were ready. No question, we were ready.”
Stinson knows how valuable Johnson is to his team.
“He’s critically important,” Stinson said. “He’s the glue to the offense. He’s the big play guy. I mean, we got shut out twice this season and he’s scored 10 touchdowns. Guys like him are allowing us to get a little better. We’re on a better track now than we were early in the season and he’s the major reason why.”
Johnson is hopeful that his performance will open eyes from college coaches.
“I’d really love to play college football,” Johnson said. “I hope I get the chance. I think this will help a lot, going into a game like this and people thinking we didn’t have a chance. Now, I think this helps our confidence and this shows we can play with anybody.”
It doesn’t get any easier for the Friars this weekend, as they take on the Soaring Eagles of Union City. One thing is for sure: A confident Herb Johnson will be there. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.