Last winter, West York coach Jeremy Jones thought 2016 might be a season for the Bulldogs to bite the bullet and start building for the future.
He looked at his depth chart and saw a sophomore quarterback and a freshman quarterback at the top of it. They'd surely take their lumps this year, but it might pay off in the future. After all, the only senior quarterback on the depth chart, Anton Johnson, sat at the very bottom of it.
But Johnson worked at the position all summer, improving more and more each day. Now when West York opens the season Friday at Central York, the Bulldogs won't be biting any bullet at all. They'll send Johnson out under center with every expectation of winning right now.
“He’s gotten a lot better at throwing the ball on vertical runs and a lot better at throwing inside too," West York receiver Joey King said of Johnson. "He used to throw interceptions that would kill him on those inside throws, but he’s gotten a lot better at that. That’s gonna be a really big factor for us."
YAIAA Division II football teams prepare for the 2016 season. Chris Dunn, York Daily Record
King and Johnson have been playing together since second grade, and the pair laughed when thinking about the fact that they actually matured from pee wee teammates to a quarterback-receiver duo at West York. After all, King played tight end at the time and Johnson played running back and receiver in elementary school.
“Their personalities are very similar to what they are now," recalled Kent Lichty, who coached Johnson and King in third and fourth grade and middle school and is now a West York assistant. "Anton was a smart kid. He bounced all over the place because he was one of those kids that, wherever we needed someone to fill in, he could play that position. He always had the football sense and ability, and he would always give 110 percent in whatever he would do.”
Lichty first suggested that Johnson try playing quarterback, during his eighth grade year. A couple years later, former West York assistant Andrew Ruhland made the decision to change Johnson from a receiver into the school's newest quarterback project.
“It was kind of stressful at first, all of the different mental aspects," Johnson said. “It definitely (clicked) this summer in Sunday quarterback workouts, getting some of those mental reps. That just flipped the switch and everything started to make sense.”
As he learned to identify and pick apart coverage schemes, he also relearned how to throw the ball.
His coaches also started to notice the impact Johnson made on his teammates.
“He really stepped up as a leader. He talks to the players, he tells them what to expect," Jones said. "He’s not yelling at them, he’s telling them, ‘This is what we’re about, this is what we do.’ He’s not belittling kids. I’m probably more impressed by that because that’s hard to do as a young man.”
On Friday, Johnson will lead West York into its annual season-opening game against Central York. The road team has won the last six games in this rivalry, and the Bulldogs will be on the road this time around after losing 31-28 last season.
“I have a lot emotions. It’s every emotion that you can think of, rolled into one," Johnson said. "I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, it’s hard to believe that it’s here. I’m definitely excited.”