Mike Johnson first became known as the kid who was his own team. That was when the Bound Brook senior linebacker/fullback was a freshman wrestler representing Immaculata, but working out with the Crusaders, often the drill partner of four-time NJSIAA state wrestling champ Andrew Campolattano.
The Middlesex Borough resident transferred from Immaculata to Bound Brook after his freshman year, enrolling as part of Gov. Chris Christie’s School of Choice initiative to take engineering courses.
Johson has always liked to draw and been attracted to art, and that interest has led him to wanting to become a on-site construction engineer.
“I like to use my art in building things, making bridges, that kind of thing,” said Johnson, whose grandfather Steve was a 440-yard record holder for the Crusaders.
Wrestling has helped significantly in Johnson’s plan to play football in college, perhaps at a Division I-AA school. He has been a starter for two NJSIAA state Group I title teams and last season placed fifth at 285 pounds at the NJSIAA State Tournament in March by beating graduated Scotch Plains-Fanwood standout lineman Anthony Tufaro in overtime in the fifth/sixth bout.
Johnson also won his first Region V title and second at District 18. He’s currently ranked second in some polls for the upcoming season.
But there is a season of football to be played, and Bound Brook definitely needs what he can provide — a strong defensive game, stout blocking and straight-ahead rushing. Johnson (73-for-430 yards, six touchdowns) and senior running back Gary Roach (76-for-781, 11 touchdowns) should provide an effective run game behind first-year senior quarterback Jarret Gardner, who takes over for the departed Jalen Wheeler who transferred to Hackensack. Johnson caught 12 Wheeler passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
“Mike’s one of our go-to guys,” said Bound Brook coach Dom Longo. “He’s able to run and block. Mike is a monster blocker. He’s a bruiser now. He’s like a man.”
He has improved his bench to 365 pounds and his 40-yard time has improved.
“I’ve worked my butt off,” Johnson said. “I didn’t take any time off.”
The Crusaders could have the fastest team they’ve fielded since current Hillsborough coach Kevin Thomas Carty became Bound Brook’s coach in 2006. Longo was the defensive coordinator for Carty between ’06 and ’10 and became head coach when Carty left for Hillsborough. Johnson is Longo’s kind of player, and realizes the importance.
His importance — his absence in this case — was felt in a game with South Hunterdon last season. He sat out the entire first half with an injury as the Eagles built a 9-0 halftime lead, then 16-0 in the third quarter behind its run-driven offense. Bound Brook rallied to win 28-24 as Johnson — limited to just playing defense — helped slow down South before graduated standout Isaiah Williams made two great plays to save the day.
Longo knows defense is what will be the difference in whether the Crusaders can better last year’s 5-5 and win a game or two in the North 2 Group I playoffs. A lot rests with the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Johnson, who led the team by a wide margin with 65 total tackles and 46 solos last season.