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Mount Zion DE looking for breakout season

Mount Zion defensive end Alexis Johnson, right, talks with an assistant coach during a break at a Bulldogs practice last week. Johnson is trying to recover from an ACL injury, which he sustained in the team’s first game last season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Mount Zion defensive end Alexis Johnson, right, talks with an assistant coach during a break at a Bulldogs practice last week. Johnson is trying to recover from an ACL injury, which he sustained in the team’s first game last season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

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Alexis Johnson is participating in his first contact drills since a season-ending knee injury in Mount Zion’s first game last season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

JONESBORO — It had the makings of a good season for Alexis Johnson.

The Mount Zion High defensive end entered the season on the radar of some college coaches, and had some high expectations for the 2012 season.

It seemed to be going well for Johnson in the first quarter of the Bulldogs season opener against Jonesboro last season. That was before the third play of Mount Zion’s defensive series.

Johnson planted his feet to make a cut to pursue a play, but his leg popped, and eventually his season was done.

“I thought I had just tweaked it,” Johnson said earlier this week before practice. “I tried to go back out there, but it wasn’t working.”

A trip to the doctor revealed a torn ACL injury, and the end of his season.

“Man, I felt really bad,” he said. “It was hard just watching.”

And given that the Bulldogs suffered through a 1-9 season, it wasn’t much to see.

“The hardest part is that I couldn’t be out there,” he said. “I wanted to help this team. The losing was real painful.”

Mount Zion coaches haven’t predicted what the season could have been with Johnson out there, but they do know his size and leadership was sorely missed.

“He could have helped us out,” Mount Zion defensive coordinator Darryl McGhee said. “We missed him out there.”

The time away from the field might have cost him some additional looks by college coaches. Jacksonville State has still shown interest in him.

“I think more coaches will come around once the season gets started,” Mount Zion head coach Ervin Starr said. “I know there are some people that like him.”

And for good reason.

Johnson, who is 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, is probably the most athletic player on the Bulldogs’ squad. Starr had some offensive packages ready for his standout defensive player.

“We want to use him on offense, sort of like the New England Patriots use their tight end,” Starr said. “We have some things just for him that we couldn’t use last season.”

Johnson could even line up some at the quarterback position. According to Starr, he has probably the strongest arm on the team.

“If something happens to our first two quarterbacks, he will be out there,” Starr said. “Of course we don’t want them to get hurt, but we believe we have a capable person in Alexis.”

Defensive end. Tight end. Quarterback.

“Yep, he is that type of athlete,” Starr says. “I think once we get some good film on him, some colleges will start to come around more.”

Last week was Johnson’s first in contact drills since his injury. He says he is at about 90 percent, but might have been a little hesitant in the first day of contact drills.

“I’m trying to get back to my old self,” he said. “I want to have a big year, and I want the team to have a big year. I know we can improve on last season. The big thing is that we have to play hard, and make some plays.”