The distinguished six sit side by side in the Hanford High gymnasium.
Parked on a red bleacher on the end is Ryan Johnson, juggling a football and basketball.
To his right, lined up on red and black “BULLPUPS” chairs, are four Central Section championship plaques – two for football, two for basketball – in addition to a CIF State-winning trophy topped with a wooden caricature of California.
They represent athletic achievement unlike anything experienced in the 124-year history of this Kings County school.
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They represent 19 months of excellence, crowned with championships at Neighbor Bowl adjacent to this gym and at Selland Arena in downtown Fresno.
Above all, they represent the extraordinary talents of one Ryan James Johnson.
4 Combined Central Section football and basketball championship teams Johnson has impacted in two years
“I mean, who’s ever done this?” Hanford football coach Josh Young asks of The Fresno Bee’s Player of the Year, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound junior who’s gone 75-19 in a combined five varsity seasons of football and basketball, including 26-2 as a quarterback.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Johnson says. “We just kept winning and winning, and I just started getting used to it. It’s a dream come true.”
Until 2014, the Bullpups hadn’t won a section football title – zero – in a program that played its first game in 1899.
And consider some of the dynamos the program has produced: Fred Leathers, Mark Lee, Shawn Wills, Jewerl Thomas, Danny Coulon, Dameane Douglas, Jake Young, Chris Silveira, Cougar Williams, and Brayden Sanchez.
Yet three Johnson teammates all along in football and basketball – Juwuane Hughes, Cole Taber and Jonathan Stevens – also have contributed to that hardware displayed in the gym last week.
I don’t even know how to explain it. We just kept winning and winning, and I just started getting used to it. It’s just a dream come true.
Ryan Johnson, who has won 75 games and four section titles in a combined five seasons of varsity football and basketball
And Johnson is quick to emphasize the value of playing both sports as a quartet since they were barely old enough to catch a football or shoot a basketball.
“We’ve played together since third grade,” Johnson says, “and the chemistry has showed through high school.”
Johnson, who scored 43 points in a West Yosemite League basketball win over Redwood last week – No. 2 in school annals – has been the facilitator, regardless of conditions.
And never was that more apparent than at Neighbor Bowl for the state Division IV-AA championship against Bonita Vista-Chula Vista.
A week before Christmas, it was low-40-degree temperatures at kickoff and on a field-turned-mud pie because of storms leading up to the game.
“Terrible,” Johnson says. “Cold, raining, mud and puddles. If you slid, it felt like you just got out of the pool. The ball was wet, my hands were wet, my towel was wet, my jersey was wet. That was the hardest game of my life.”
Johnson has accounted for 6,226 total yards and 77 touchdowns in two seasons
Yet his final numbers scream to the contrary: 16 completions in 29 attempts for 268 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions.
It might as well have been 80 and dry in Phoenix.
“I know I surprised a lot of people,” he says. “I surprised myself.”
The element of surprise is decreasing by the day for an athlete believed to be part of the first brother/sister tandem to earn Player of the Year honors in Fresno Bee history.
Brooke Johnson, now a sophomore at UNLV, was co-POY with Clovis West’s Emily Anderson in 2014.
Ryan Johnson, who credits much of his athletic development to years of front-yard basketball duels with Brooke that routinely and literally turned into “blood, sweat and tears” on Cedarwood Street in northwest Hanford, is on pace to blow away every major passing record at the school.
He set school single-season records in the fall for completions (214), attempts (346), yards (3,063) and touchdowns (35) for a 14-1 team that won the section D-III title with a 42-28 decision over Memorial. And that was without Hughes (broken arm) for the team’s entire six-game WYL schedule.
All single-season and career statistics, in addition to school and Central Section records, contributed by historian Bob Barnett.
“Ryan weathered that storm,” Young says, “and that’s what impressed me most. Getting through those games without Juwuane, in addition to us having a young offensive line, he had a tremendous amount of pressure on him.”
Johnson has two-year career totals of 4,944 passing yards and 54 TDs against only 13 interceptions in addition to 1,281 rushing yards and 23 more scores.
So that’s 6,226 total yards and 77 TDs accounted for.
Dad can’t say he saw it coming.
“I could see at a young age he had good motor skills, good speed and was coordinated,” says Sandy Johnson, a former football/basketball standout at Riverdale in the early ’80s. “I thought he’d be a decent little athlete, but I never could have forecasted this. It’s beyond imagination and I’m ecstatic.”
I could see at a young age he had good motor skills, good speed and was coordinated. I thought he’d be a decent little athlete, but I never could have forecasted this. It’s beyond imagination and I’m ecstatic.
Sandy Johnson, Ryan’s father and former Riverdale standout athlete
His son hasn’t attracted a lot of college interest, in part because he has spent most of his summers playing basketball instead of being involved in football showcase camps and combines.
But Young expects the college boiler to heat up in a hurry: “He has size, a cannon of an arm, can run and makes good decisions. The college coaches just want to make sure he’s the guy they can put a team on. The interest is on the cusp. Actually, I think it’s about to blow up.”
Football All-Stars: Co-Offensive Players of the Year Sean Kuenzinger and Charles Williams
- School: Clovis
- He’s qualified because: The Tri-River Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year burst upon the scene as a senior with passing efficiency that ranked among the best in the state for an 11-2 team that tied for the league title and placed second in the Central Section’s Division I. Not only completing a high percentage of passes (.607, 185 of 305), but often throwing deep, he had 3,056 yards and 30 touchdowns against only nine interceptions. The yards and TD figures rank third in school history.
- He said it: “Sean played with a cool determination leading his team each and every week. His accuracy was his best attribute, allowing him to throw the ball vertically down the field yet complete a high percentage of passes. His focus on his team and giving credit to his teammates allowed him to lead his team. His attention to detail and strive for perfection allowed him to shine during the brightest and most difficult moments throughout the season.” – Clovis coach Rich Hammond.
- School: Bullard
- He’s qualified because: Two-time County/Metro Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year averaged 7.5 yards a carry while rushing for 2,142 yards and 28 touchdowns – both No. 2 for a single season in school history – for a 9-3 team that reached the Central Section Division I semifinals. The senior’s two-year total of 3,580 rushing yards is also second in school annals, and his 48 career TDs ties for first. Next for the section sprint champion in track and field: UNLV.
- He said it: “Two things that stand out about Charles: He’s a violent runner, one of the few kids I’ve ever had who plays better when he’s very angry. When you challenge Charles or he’s upset by whatever perceived slight, he runs harder. Some guys shrink when challenged; Charles steps up even more. And then you mix that in with his top-end speed and you’ve got a pretty good combination.” – Bullard coach Donnie Arax.
Football All-Stars: Defensive Player of the Year Josh Hokit
- School: Clovis
- He’s qualified because: It took a state division champion, Hanford quarterback Ryan Johnson, to clip Hokit for The Bee’s Player of the Year honor. Anything short of that and it’s Hokit, the POY of the Central Section’s elite league, the Tri-River Athletic Conference, and arguably the section’s premier multi-position player as a safety and running back. The senior averaged 6.7 yards a carry while rushing for 820 yards and eight touchdowns, and made 117 tackles. A major college recruit as a safety, he’ll instead wrestle at Drexel – a private college in Philadelphia – on a five-year, full-ride scholarship worth $260,000. He’s a nationally ranked wrestler who placed second and fifth in the past two CIF State Championships.
- He said it: “Josh is the ultimate competitor willing to do whatever it took to lead his team to success. His physical style of play was his signature and had a way of setting a tone for the game. He made an impact on the game with his ability to carry defenders on offense and with bruising tackles on defense. He was a man of few words who made his statement rising to the challenge on the field.” – Clovis coach Rich Hammond.
Football All-Stars: Career Achievement Romello Harris
- School: Tulare
- He’s qualified because: In a program long on extraordinary talent – Tulare has had four players (Virgil Green, Bryce Harris, Marquess Wilson, Zac Diles) in the NFL in recent years – running back Harris leaves for Washington State as distinguished as any as a prep. He’d likely be going to Pullman and the Pac-12 as a Central Section record-holder if not for hand and knee injuries that limited him to six full-time games for the 9-2 team this season. He still rushed for 1,993 yards and scored 26 touchdowns, closing out his four-year career with 7,311 and 91 – ranking No. 3 and No. 5 in section history. Only Mendota’s Edgar Segura (8,029, 2011-13) and Tulare’s Dominique Dorsey (7,761, 1998-2001) have rushed for more yards in section annals. Harris was on a 8,739-yard pace sans the injuries, the most serious of which required extensive surgery Monday. And that virtually guarantees he’ll redshirt in the fall for the Cougars.
- What he appreciates most: “Truthfully, it will be Coach (Darren) Bennett. If you have the talent to be D-I, and you want to be D-I, he’ll push you to be D-I.”
- The final word: “I would love to have had a healthy senior year. The target since my freshman year was to break the section rushing record. I was aiming so hard – I worked so hard in the off-season, doing everything I could to get it. But (the injuries) happened, and it’s time to move on.” – Harris.
Football All-Stars: Coach of the Year Josh Young
- School: Hanford
- He’s qualified because: Nine-year Hanford coach (70-35) and graduate of the school in 1993, he went 14-1 this season and has gone 26-2 in two years at a program that played its first game in 1899 and didn’t have a 10-win season for 75 years. Further, the Bullpups have won two consecutive Central Section Division III titles after winning nary a one since birth. In addition, participating in the California Interscholastic Federation’s expanded postseason format this season that swelled to 13 divisions, they stand as state champs after defeating Bonita Vista-Chula Vista 33-21 in miserably cold and wet conditions at home for the D-IV-AA trophy. Coordinators Cannon Sanchez (offense) and David Clements (defense) have proven pivotal in the program’s rise to prominence.
- He said it: “When I took the job I wanted to have a consistent program like, when I played, Redwood, El Diamante and Clovis West, year in and year out. After two years not as good (5-16 in 2012-13), we had to step back and make adjustments. We had coaches come in (seven of nine are former Hanford players) to help things come along. Now I go into a grocery store and someone says, ‘Congratulations.’ And that’s pretty damn cool, great for the community. I have no plans to go nowhere; the program is finally where it needs to be. So now, the work is to keep it here; the goal is to maintain playing games at a high level. And we have a good recipe.” – Young.
The Bee’s Fab 50 Football All-Stars
- Logan Fogg, junior, Buchanan
- Chibuikem Dunu, senior, Buchanan
- Ben Parker, senior, Buchanan
- Bryson Young, senior, Buchanan
- Ben Baker, junior, Bullard
- Connor Vikupitz, senior, Bullard
- Alex Puga, junior, Caruthers
- Nick Szpor, senior, Central
- Kolin Stock, senior, Central Valley Christian
- Anthony Stewart, senior, Chowchilla
- JJ Wills, senior, Clovis
- Coltin Velasquez, senior Clovis
- Shayne Valdez, senior Clovis
- Jared Hill, senior, Clovis
- Marcus Washington, sophomore, Clovis East
- Trey Semien, senior, Clovis East
- Garrett Richardson, senior, Clovis North
- Jeremy Miller, senior, Clovis North
- Chase Maurer, senior, Clovis North
- Jayson Lee, senior, Clovis North
- Adrian Martinez, sophomore, Clovis West
- Caleb Kelly, senior, Clovis West
- Johnny Rojas, senior, Clovis West
- Andrew Walker, senior, Dos Palos
- Leevel Tatum, senior, Edison
- David Tate, senior, Edison
- Miguel Marquez, senior, Edison
- Alim Shabazz, senior, Edison
- Hugo Mendez, senior, Fowler
- Nyric Hinton, senior, Fresno
- Ofaloto Kuma, senior, Fresno
- Joe McDaniel, senior, Hanford
- Kaipo Barnes, senior Hanford
- Juwuane Hughes, senior, Hanford
- Ryan Case, senior, Immanuel
- Cody King, senior, Immanuel
- Andrew Vorhees, junior, Kingsburg
- Caleb Paulson, senior, Immanuel
- Noah Wright, junior, Lemoore
- Reggie Davis, senior, Lemoore
- Allen Perryman, senior, Lemoore
- Evan Rios, senior, Madera
- Kris Bueno, senior, Madera
- Jonah Johnson, junior, Madera South
- Chris Paz, senior, Memorial
- Joey Ruiz, senior, Memorial
- Isaiah Jones, senior, Porterville
- Ricky Garcia, senior, Reedley
- Miguel Garcia, junior, Sanger
- Isaiah Hilliard, senior, Sanger
- Angel Alvarez, senior, Sanger
- Elijah Alonzo, senior, Tulare Western
- Marin Apodaca, senior, Woodlake