Johnny Browning is relishing in the moment of being the defensive motor for Jamestown High School football this season.
The senior outside linebacker is leading the 2-2 Blue Jays in tackles (31), tackles for loss (7) and sacks (3) through four games, but the production isn't something that just happened to crop up. Desire first fueled the young man's dedication.
Jamestown will be looking to improve to 2-1 in the Class AAA West Region at Williston (2-2, 0-2 WR) on Friday night.
"I've never been one of the go-to players," Browning said Thursday at Ernie Gates Field. "But I took it upon myself this year to work hard and be the player to work hard every play."
Browning hit the ground running in 2019, posting a team-leading nine total tackles and a sack during Week 1's 7-0 home victory over Fargo North. The performance was a welcomed sight for fans of the blue and white.
JHS lost seven of its top 11 tacklers to graduation following the 2018 season, and Browning didn't happen to be one of the noise-makers returning to the defense this fall. He'd only contributed six total tackles in a trio of game appearances during his junior campaign, as the Blue Jays reached the Class AA state semifinals and current University of Jamestown linebacker Aaron Mack walked off the field having posted 148 tackles over his final two seasons with the Jays.
So far, Browning has been doing an admirable job filling some pretty big shoes.
"I always want to be that person," Browning said. "I work hard every day for it."
Browning will be tabbed with getting after Williston senior quarterback Charles Whitlock tomorrow night at Legends Field, while also dropping into pass coverage. Williston utilizes a pass-heavy attack, with 860 of its 1,109 yards of total offense after four games coming through the air.
"We're working a lot with our corners and moving people around to different positions," Browning said. 'I'll be out more in space, having to cover more of those routes. They use a quarterback who likes to throw it a lot and we just have to take that away."
The Blue Jays are coming off a strange, lopsided loss at Bismarck Legacy last Saturday. Thunderstorms forced the originally-scheduled Friday game back 24 hours, which in turn forced Jamestown to make the trip down Interstate 94 to Bismarck twice. The Sabers pounced, scoring 28 first-quarter points in a 42-0 victory.
"You're going to get dealt adversity from time to time, and we weren't ready to play football," said JHS head coach Bill Nelson. "I'll take the blame on that one ... but when somebody smacks you in the face, you better be ready to smack 'em back.
"The kids weren't happy with the performance, but we ground down, had a good week of practice and we're ready to go on a road trip and show some people that we're a lot better football team than what we showed last Saturday night."
Williston started the season with non-conference victories over Watford City and Grand Forks Central, but have since fallen to Bismarck High 28-14 and top-ranked Bismarck Century 36-7. The Patriots limited Williston's passing attack to 81 yards last week in Williston, but the Coyotes did amasses 261 yards passing and 320 yards of total offense against the 2-2 Demons.
Over Williston's first three games, Whitlock completed 62 of 96 passing attempts for 757 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. Williston's pass-catching weapons include seniors Kyle Miller, Denver Sheets, Jericho Burbank and Jeremiah MacSteves, and junior J.J. Williams. Miller, Sheets, Burbank and Williams have all posted touchdown receptions.
"They're a lot of spread. They're in (shotgun) a lot, like us," Nelson said. "They've got some good receivers and they've got athletes. We've got to have a good start. We need to come out and establish the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."
The Blue Jays are 3-2 in their last five games against Williston, last winning 17-7 at Williston in 2014. Jamestown, after defeating Dickinson 22-21 on Sept. 13, is currently in a four-way tie for second in the West Region at 1-1. Jamestown senior quarterback Tommy Falk has thrown for 834 yards and four touchdowns, while junior Jacob Hilgemann leads the team with 305 yards receiving and a trio of touchdowns and sophomore running back Jakob Schempp is pacing the team with 133 yards rushing, scampering for 5.54 yards per attempt.
"Do what you're capable of doing, and sometimes I think that gets pushed back into the back of our minds," Nelson said. "So much can happen. We just need to believe."