KEIZER — Chances are that you heard A.J. Johnk’s name once and then never again.
In his first snap as a high school football player as a sophomore at McNary High in 2014, Johnk booted a 30-yard field goal with one second on the clock to give the Celtics a 42-39 win at McMinnville and was subsequently mobbed.
“My first experience was a great thing,” Johnk said.
He kicked a few more field goals for the varsity team that season, but in a 7-on-7 tournament in the summer before his junior year, he made a sharp cut and tore the ACL in his left knee, requiring season-ending surgery.
Johnk returned to run track and field last spring and was almost as fast as his sophomore year.
Though he’s relatively unknown, the 5-foot-5, 130-pound senior is poised to make his mark as more than a kicker.
“As you can tell he’s recovered from his injury and he’s a good leader to have on the team as well,” said senior receiver Brendan Van Voorhis. “He’s just a great all-around person, honestly. He’s a great guy and it’s good to have him back.”
The reason Johnk was stashed on the JV team as a sophomore was he showed so much promise as a running back, the coaching staff wanted to give him time to develop there.
Now that he’s back and 100 percent – except for the bulky left knee brace that he says slows him slightly, Johnk can finally show people he’s more than a kicker.
“He’s quick on quick,” McNary coach Jeff Auvinen said. “He’s going to have that ability to find little crevasses and creases and get through those. He can cut on a dime.
“He’s going to be able to duck behind and get through that little crease when he opens up. He’s going to be our starter.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6701 or Twitter.com/bpoehler
Coach: Jeff Auvinen, second year.
Last year’s record: 4-6 overall, 4-4 GVC, lost in first round of state playoffs.
Key athletes: Kolby Barker, Sr., OL/LB: A two-year starter at defensive line and first-team all-conference player as a junior, he moves to the offensive line to take advantage of his skill and to middle linebacker on defense. Brendan Van Voorhis, Sr., WR/CB/S: The two-time state placer in the 400 meter dash is a returning starter who brings speed to the passing game. Caleb Kiefluk-Yates, Sr., OL/DL: An honorable mention all-conference offensive lineman as a junior who will play more on defense this season. Xavier Martinez, Sr., RB/LB: Was a starter for half of his junior year while he was healthy. Lucas Garvey, Jr., RB/CB: Played some varsity last year, but will be a starter on defense this season.
Outlook: The Celtics have a quarterback battle under way between seniors Tyler Ellertson, the JV starter last year, and Josiah Gilbert, the baseball standout and varsity backup last year. “Tyler has a little more experience,” Auvinen said. “Josiah’s naturally been more of a receiver, more of a DB. When Tyler quarterbacks he’s going to play elsewhere. It’s a good situation to have. You have two guys who can play.” On the offensive line, starters Sam Farr and Yates return and Barker moves to the offensive line to help out. Senior Drew Postma will play at one guard and powerful 295 pound sophomore Josh Meltzer takes over at tackle. The team has a lot of starting spots on defense, especially up front, to fill, but its secondary that includes Van Voorhis, Gilbert and Lucas Garvey will be athletic.
Everyone in the valley knows the big names in high school football – players such as Central High’s Marlon Tuipulotu, South Salem’s Tyler Coates and Blanchet’s Nick Orlandini – but the Statesman Journal is highlighting the lesser known players who will make their presence felt on football fields this fall.
Here’s the schedule:
Aug. 24: McNary, Dallas and the Mid-Willamette Conference.
Aug. 25: North Salem, Salem Academy and the PacWest Conference.
Aug. 26: West Salem, Cascade and the Oregon West Conference.
Aug. 27: Sprague, Amity and the West Valley League.
Aug. 28: McKay, Kennedy, the Tri-River Conference and Class 1A.
Aug. 29: South Salem and Central.
Aug. 30: Volleyball.
Aug. 31: Soccer.
Sept. 1: Cross country.