Jahmiq Johnson prepared all week for his chance to shine against 1-on-1 coverage at the 24th Sunshine Football Classic at Notre Dame High School on July 2.
The High School North graduate didn’t have to wait long. On the first drive of the game for the East all-stars, he hauled in a pass from Hightstown quarterback Liam Monahan and went 61 yards to the 5-yard line to set up the East’s first touchdown.
“Right before the play, when we broke the huddle, I told the quarterback, ‘It’s trips so look back side,’” Johnson said. “He read the corner was pressed up against me and off the snap he just threw it.”
What made Johnson feel even better about the biggest play of the game—which was eventually shortened due to lightning— was that it helped the East to snap a four-game Sunshine losing streak and come out with a 14-7 win.
“I think it was pretty big,” said Johnson, who had one other catch and also returned a kick. “Going into the first practice, and the first couple practices, I’d been hearing from our teammates and other people that the West side is good. They put us down as the underdogs.”
Johnson was one of three players to represent this year’s WW-P co-op team that brought together players from both high schools for the first time. Brothers Andrew and Brian Zhong were the South graduates that played.
The three were able to contribute to a win, something that eluded them in the fall with WW-P. The co-op team had 15 seniors this year that helped to build a foundation for a brighter future despite an 0-9 season.
Just the feeling of playing football, being able to play on Friday nights, even though we haven’t won, that might have been my best year,” Johnson said. “Combining with South, we learned something new. Being able to play with guys from elementary school, it set the tone for next year’s team and the future.”
WW-P head coach Jeff Reilly said he is certain that there will be more Sunshine all-stars from the WW-P program, but felt good about this year’s representatives. The Sunshine game was a finale for the Zhong brothers, who will focus on their studies at Rutgers University while Johnson will attend East Coast Prep in Massachusetts for the fall semester in preparation to make the jump to a college program. He’s been lifting and working out with WW-P to get ready.
“Right now, I’m starting my workouts,” Johnson said. “I’m in the weight room with my high school team. After lifting, I do my own wide receiver workouts. I run to build my stamina.”
WW-P also looks good going into the fall. There are 96 players currently signed up for next year, a healthy sign for a program that wasn’t sure how things would develop. Last year’s freshmen enjoyed an unbeaten season.
“We have some good rising seniors, and some promising kids coming back,” Reilly said. “Some young kids will help us right away. We’re working with them this summer. Mostly we’re doing passing. We should be a much improved team.”
Reilly will watch from afar as this year’s program graduates move on to their next steps. Johnson’s Sunshine appearance gave a glimpse of what he is capable of against other premier players.
“I think he can help any college program with his abilities,” Reilly said. “I think it’s a good opportunity to give him one more year to display what he has. If it’s a prep, he’s not using a year (of college eligibility). He’ll give it a shot and see how far he goes with it.”
Johnson’s dedication over the years helped to earn him a spot in the Sunshine Classic. That too fulfilled a dream that he’d long held.
Johnson said he valued the chance to play against some of the top players in the county in his final game in New Jersey. To play one final game representing WW-P was also special. To contribute to the win made it even better.
“I feel like even though that wasn’t my last game, I still played it like it was my last,” Johnson said.
“There are other kids out in the world or on my team that were never going to play again,” he added. “I took the role seriously. I’m still playing in the future, and I am very appreciative and honored knowing I get to see another day playing football.”