Raki Johnson — all 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds of him — didn’t blow up plays like Marquis Chisom did, but Green Tech Charter School coach Travis Wood thinks he could have.
“He long-snapped. Kicked. He played quarterback in our last game. I could have thrown him on the defensive line and he would have made an impact,” Wood said of The Daily Gazette’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. “He just makes it happen.”
While Johnson made his mark in all places including free safety, Guilderland’s Chisom did his best work in the trenches and backfields in a grand senior-season leap.
“The real difference this year is his growth as a player and his ability to be coached,” Guilderland coach Dan Penna said of his gap-shooting team leader. “He used to rely on raw athleticism. He became a football player. He really came along.”
A Section II discus champion with track speed, Chisom made 39 solo tackles and was in on 84 takedowns. The 6-3, 280-pound defensive tackle recorded four sacks and recovered a fumble for the resurgent Dutchmen, helping them go from two wins to seven and the sectional semifinals while enhancing his collegiate stock.
“He led the team in tackles,” Penna said. “For a lineman getting double- and triple-teamed and have teams running away from him, that’s unheard of.
“I’ve been coaching a while. He’s in the top three best players I’ve coached, and the best defensive lineman I’ve coached.”
The Class AA Empire Division Defensive Player of the year has an insane senior highlight film that includes some big hits in the backfield and on the kickoff team.
“He can run like a deer,” Penna said. “He has exceptional speed and awareness for his size.”
Johnson also used those tools to pick off seven passes this year and increase his three-year interception total to 17. The Schenectady resident turned two of those picks into touchdowns, batted down 17 passes, made 45 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered two. The Class A Northwest Division Player of the Year averaged more than 30 yards on kick and punt returns, and scored twice on punt returns to boost his career total to eight.
Colleges from every level have been looking at Johnson as well as junior teammate T.J.Robertson, a fierce and fast defensive end whose stat line included 32 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and eight forced fumbles.
“He could be the Defensive Player of the Year. He could be the special teams Player of the Year,” Wood said of Johnson. “He’s the complete all-around athlete. When we played him at quarterback in our last game, he threw two touchdown passes.”
Johnson ran for a touchdown and caught 22 passes for 425 yards and seven TDs. He scored 36 varsity touchdowns, after piling up 32 TDs as a freshman.
“All of the coaches changed their game plan for him. That was an honor for him,” Wood said of the athletic and academic standout. “Queensbury tripled-teamed him, and I’ve never seen that.”
Johnson is joined in the All-Area defensive secondary by Dale Stanavich of state Class A semifinalist Amsterdam, Mike Mushaw of Scotia-Glenville and Yale-bound Brendan MacPhee of Section II Class AA runner-up Shaker.
Stanavich was in on 128 tackles, forced four fumbles and returned one of his five interceptions 99 yards for a TD in the Rugged Rams’ Super Bowl win over Troy.
“He had an unbelievable year,” Amsterdam coach Doug Edick said of his junior free safety and fullback, the Southeast Division All-Purpose Player of the Year. “He had twice as many tackles as our next guy. He came in and filled nicely. He had a lot of solo tackles.”
Mushaw, the Northwest co-Defensive Player of the Year, made an amazing 79 solo tackles playing safety and corner as well as inside and outside linebacker.
“He’s such a physical kid,” Scotia-Glenville coach Kevin Warren said of the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior. “He likes to hit.”
A coverage ace, MacPhee had three interceptions to go with his nine passes defended and 43 tackles. Shaker is also represented by Boston College-bound defensive end Brandon Barlow, the Class AA Liberty Division Player of the Year who racked up 68 tackles and nine sacks, and linebacker Kwasi Addo, who led the Blue Bison with 83 tackles.
“The junior year he had was special,” Shaker coach Greg Sheeler said of the former soccer player who garnered Liberty Division Defensive Player of the Year honors. “He’s incredibly physical. I don’t know how many times he got the stick of the week.”
Linebacker Brandon Hipsley led state Class AA finalist Saratoga Springs with 93 tackles to go with three interceptions, one which he returned for a touchdown. Skyler Bateman also excelled there, leading state Class B finalist Schuylerville with 63 tackles to go with a team-high 1,205 rushing yards. Linebacker Patrick Ghyll was Guilderland’s second-leading tackler with 73.
“He’s an old-school linebacker,” Penna said. “When he hits you, he brings a certain level of ferocity. He wants to leave an impact.”
Class C coaches thought defensive end Jack Derby of Fonda-Fultonville did that to the greatest extent at that level in Section II, naming him the league’s Defensive Player of the Year as well as the South Division’s Player of the Year. He made 39 solo tackles, had 28 assists and recovered five fumbles while usually occupying multiple blockers. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound three-year starter also anchored the Braves' offensive line at center.
Saratoga punter Ryan Manlapaz consistently pinned opponents deep with his 38-yard average (4.2-yard net return), yet the Empire Division All-Purpose Player of the Year did so much more for the record-setting Blue Streaks with 20 kickoff touchbacks, 493 running and receiving yards, eight touchdowns, seven PATs, 47 tackles and three interceptions.