The drama of a senior season lost and the firings of three coaching staffs fond of Ryan Johnson suddenly found blue skies, sunshine and a breath of fresh air for the Hanford High School quarterback Wednesday.
It has often been depressingly foggy recently in this Kings County town, but it lifted on this day and with it the spirits of Johnson, who signed a national letter of intent with San Jose State.
This wasn’t your conventional signing.
This was a quarterback – The Fresno Bee’s Player of the Year in 2015 – who took six snaps as a senior: one pass (completed for 11 yards), two sacks, two handoffs and a punt in a season-opening 33-14 loss at Buchanan.
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In the process, he tore the ACL in his left knee, wiping out the rest of his season and basketball – sports in which he went 75-20 as a starter, won four Central Section titles and a CIF State Division IV-AA crown in football as arguably the most accomplished athlete in the school’s 125-year history.
So he watched from the sideline in football, where he accounted for 6,226 yards and 77 touchdowns rushing and passing while going 26-2 as a starter as a sophomore and junior.
And he continues to watch from the bench in basketball, where he scored 43 points in a game last season as a Bee All-Star.
Words can’t explain how hard it’s been. It’s been terrible sitting on the bench the whole time when I wanted to be out there helping my team.
Hanford football/basketball star Ryan Johnson
“Words can’t explain how hard it’s been,” he said after signing before an army of family members and friends. “It’s been terrible sitting on the bench the whole time when I wanted to be out there helping my team.”
Johnson committed to San Jose State and coach Ron Caragher in the summer.
But Caragher was fired in late November.
Nevada and coach Brian Polian also offered Johnson a scholarship. But Polian was flushed as well.
An assistant to Oregon’s Mark Helfrich had booked a trip to Hanford to talk to Johnson but never made it because Helrich was dumped in Eugene.
All these within days of each other.
“He was a little worried, as I was,” said his father, Sandy Johnson. “I started feeling sorry for him. He’s my kid and I didn’t want him to go through such rough times.”
75-20 Ryan Johnson’s career record as a starter in football and basketball at Hanford
The Johnsons’ concerns were short-lived because soon after the Caragher firing and before he was replaced by Brent Brennan, a San Jose State administrator called them and assured the scholarship offer would be honored.
“That was good and it meant something,” Ryan Johnson said. “It’s been a long process, but I got through it; that’s the main thing. Now I have the next four years of my life set and I look forward to it.”
A large crowd at the Presentation Center, where Bullpups running back Jordan Perryman (UC Davis) and soccer player Michelle Silva (Cal State East Bay) also signed, saw Hanford football coach Josh Young struggle from cracking emotionally in a tribute to Johnson.
“The last time I talked about Ryan,” he said, “I got a little choked up, and it’s hard not to now. You’ve got in front of you one of the best athletes ever to come out of this high school, honest to goodness.”
Later, Young talked about the maturity of Johnson, particularly evident post-injury and a successful surgery at Sierra Pacific Orthopedics in Fresno.
“The way he handled himself actually kind of made it easier on the coaching staff,” Young said. “He didn’t dwell on it for the team and coaches to see. He came to practices, was a part of everything, engaged and helped to do what he could. And everybody fed off that.”