VALDOSTA -- Every time Alfrie Johnson touches the ball, there is the potential for a big play.
Considering he touches the ball every offensive play, that's a pretty good predicament for Johnson and the Valdosta Wildcats.
Johnson, Valdosta's sophomore quarterback, has emerged as a star for the Wildcats since becoming the starting quarterback four games ago. In the past four games, Johnson has rushed for 565 yards and passed for another 389. In Valdosta's three most recent wins, the Wildcats are averaging 31 points. Recently, when there's been a play to be made, it's usually been Johnson making that play.
He's the man that makes things happen for Valdosta.
"He has the ability to make plays," Valdosta head coach Rick Darlington said. "We've designed plays to take advantage of his athleticism. But he can take a bad play and turn it into a good one, or he can turn a good one into a great one.
"He's going to be special, if he stays humble and hungry, and keeps working."
"I go out there, try to make plays and help the team win," Johnson said.
With Johnson's size (6-foot-2), his speed (4.4 in the 40), the fact that he's a left-handed quarterback, and his playmaking ability, he has brought the inevitable comparisons to another quarterback in this state -- Atlanta Falcons superstar Michael Vick. There's only one Vick, but Johnson gives high school defenses fits much like Vick does in the NFL.
When asked who has compared him to Vick, Johnson replied, "Everybody."
It should be no surprise, then, that Vick is one of Johnson's quarterbacking heroes. So is New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks (whose uniform number, No. 2, Johnson wears), who plays a similar style. Johnson also has tried to model himself after former Valdosta quarterbacks Carlos Gatlin and Cedric Hatten, both of whom were dangerous with their arms and their feet, like Johnson is.
"They were great players. They were fast, they could scramble, and they could throw the ball, too," Johnson said.
"We like to have quarterbacks that can run and pass," Darlington said. "Since I've been here, we've been blessed with good ones that can do both. Cedric was special, Mike's special, and Alfie is, too."
When starting quarterback Mike Turner went down with a knee injury at the end of the Lowndes' game, it could have been disastrous for the Wildcats. Turner was having an All-Region caliber season, and a player like that is hard to lose.
Valdosta's offense demands a lot out of its quarterback, and there was some uncertainty about how he'd handle running the offense. It turns out he did quite well.
"Our quarterback is always valuable," Darlington said. "Alfie's valuable, Mike's valuable, Cedric Hatten's valuable. Our quarterbacks have always performed at a high level, and now Alfie's doing that. I've been proud that he's been able to step in and perform at a high level. We haven't watered it down for him. He's shown great poise, he's shown great patience. He's improved as a quarterback, instead of just being an athlete."
"I've gotten better at passing, and I've gotten better at reading defenses," Johnson said. "I've gotten used to playing (at this level). The offensive line and the receivers have gotten used to me, as well."
"He's become calmer," Darlington added. "He doesn't get rattled. He's unflappable. He's showing those character qualities. He's gotten better the last few weeks."
In his first start, against Houston County, he ran for 147 yards and a touchdown, and passed for another 130 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-14 victory. Two weeks later, he ran for 195 yards and a touchdown and passed for 97 and a touchdown to help the Wildcats wrap up the region's second seed with a 24-14 win over Colquitt County.
Last week, against Riverdale in the first round of the playoffs, the Wildcats fell behind 21-6 at half-time. But Johnson and the Wildcats were not worried. They believed they were going to come back. Come back they did, winning 30-28.
"We knew what we needed to do," Johnson said.
While the comeback was definitely a team effort, Johnson had as much to do with it as anyone. Johnson threw for 101 yards, and he rushed for an impressive 213 yards and two touchdowns. He made play after play, including a couple of long highlight-reel runs, to help Valdosta come back twice in the game.
"I've never had a quarterback rush for 195 yards in a game, like Alfie did against Colquitt. And then to have him come back the next week and rush for 213 yards against Riverdale, I've definitely never had a quarterback do something like that," Darlington said.
Now the Wildcats must travel to Camden County, ranked No. 1 in the state, for the second round of the playoffs. Camden is the favorite, but the team and its coaches already know one thing they must do against Valdosta: stop the quarterback.
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