WALLED LAKE, Mich. — When Sam Johnson left the game early in the fourth quarter Friday, he didn’t do so because of an insurmountable deficit or to avoid injury.
The Walled Lake (Mich.) Western junior quarterback had already been injured. His right elbow — his throwing arm — would be wrapped after the game. He didn’t know the extent of it. But after seeing his team’s drive stall in the red zone down 47-31 to Waterford (Mich.) Mott, he felt compelled to step back in.
And right away, that injured arm lofted a 17-yard pass on a dime to teammate Justin Thomas in the back of the end zone. It wouldn’t be enough for the Warriors, who fell to 3-1 after being upset 47-37, but Johnson showed the touch that has earned him offers from Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana and Syracuse, among others.
Johnson finished 13 of 21 for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offense once again wasn’t an issue for Western, which has averaged 30.3 points per game on the year. The Warriors have rebounded wonderfully since losing both quarterback Johnny Tracy and Michigan State freshman wide receiver Cody White (who was in attendance Friday) to graduation.
Mail today from MSU ♹🔱 pic.twitter.com/0KlWQCBs39
— Sam Johnson 3 (@SJ3_theFuture) September 22, 2016
First, 4-star tackle (per the 247Sports composite ratings) and eventual Michigan State commit Spencer Brown transferred from Walled Lake Northern late in the 2016-17 school year. Johnson would later follow, moving from Southfield (Mich.) when his father got a new job.
“During the process, me and Spencer talked a lot,” Johnson said. “It was like, ‘We’re gonna make this move, and it should be good.'”
So far it has been. Despite the hiccup against Mott, Western looks in good position to make a run at a fifth straight conference championship. After wins over Milford and Waterford Kettering, the Warriors stand 2-1 in league play.
Johnson has seen his game improve personally since making the move as well. He stays in occasional contact with Michigan State and quarterbacks coach Brad Salem, who said the same.
“They said my mechanics definitely got better from last year,” Johnson said. “I look bigger, and I look way faster. That’s pretty much what’s good, and that’s what they’re looking for.”
The “faster” part is something to keep in mind. Michigan State, more than in years past, has put an emphasis on finding a quarterback who can move. The Spartans did so with 2018 commit Theo Day and look to be doing the same in the 2019 class. They have offered three quarterbacks in the class, all classified as dual-threat prospects.
“The kid can run,” Western coach Mike Zdebski told the Detroit Free Press in August. “He fought it a little bit at the beginning but as his times started getting faster and faster, he was saying this is pretty cool. He has always been told he’s not a runner and that he’s a pocket quarterback.”
And Michigan State’s pro-style offense already fits his vision for a college. The Spartans, though, haven’t offered, and Johnson hasn’t visited yet this year. Brown continues to be in his ear about MSU.
Johnson laughs when he talks about Brown, one of many reasons the transition to his new school has been smooth. It’s still early, but even after the loss Friday, he has high hopes for his time at Walled Lake Western.
“I like the school,” he said. “It’s a lot of people out here that I know. It’s just fun. It should be a fun season, too.”