Having Made Big Impact for PHS Football, Johnson Headed to Sunshine All-Star Game
COMING THROUGH: Princeton High football player Jaylen Johnson fights for extra yardage in a game last fall. The recently graduated Johnson will be playing for the West squad in the 22nd Sunshine Football Classic on July 2 at Notre Dame High. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Jaylen Johnson emerged as a force on both sides of the line for the Princeton High football team during his sophomore season in 2016.
“A lot of the kids were older and tougher than me so I just had to work harder than them,” said Johnson. “As the year went on, I improved a lot on blocking and snapping the ball.”
Although PHS went 0-10 the next season, Johnson developed a deeper bond with his teammates.
“We tried our best and we never quit,” said Johnson. “When I was on the line junior year I felt like I had a brotherhood with me. I had Connor Coffee, Marqui McBride, and Finn Kaiser, they were like brothers to me.”
Coming into last fall, the 6’3, 260-pound Johnson was switched to running back as the PHS coaches decided that his blend of power and athleticism would make him hard to stop with the ball in his hands.
Johnson worked overtime to get in shape for his new role. “I just started doing extra conditioning after every summer session in the preseason so I wouldn’t be as winded as I was in the past,” said Johnson, who also stars for the PHS boys’ hoops program.
The move paid dividends as Johnson’s bruising running and rugged play on the defensive line helped PHS snap a 21-game losing streak with Tigers going to post a 2-8 record.
As a result of his productive senior campaign, Johnson has been selected to play in the Sunshine Football Classic, making the West Squad for the game that is slated for July 2 at Notre Dame High.
“I was really honored, it showed that all of my hard work paid off,” said Johnson, who is headed to Mercer County Community College and will be playing for the NJ Warriors post-graduate football program with the hopes of someday playing in college.
“My older brother Richard Levy actually played in the game. He went to Trenton High and played at UConn.”
Getting to be the primary ballcarrier for PHS allowed Johnson to show off his skill set. “I loved carrying the ball, I love running,” said Johnson. “I was the J-train.”
When PHS defeated Cherry Hill East 21-14 in late September, Johnson’s running and intensity made a big difference; he rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
‘They scored first and we were down 7-0 and I looked at everyone’s faces and there was despair; everyone had their heads down,” said Johnson, who rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.
“I told everyone ‘get your heads back in the game, we are going to win this game,’ and then I scored our first touchdown. It was my first career touchdown. The win meant a lot; it felt like a curse was lifted from us.”
Two weeks later, Johnson helped lift PHS to another victory as the Tigers edged West Windsor 22-19 on Homecoming.
“After the Homecoming win we thought we could make it into the playoffs if we won out the whole season,” said Johnson, who rumbled for two touchdowns on the night. “That second win gave us some good luck on our side.”
Over the rest of the fall, PHS didn’t have great luck as it dropped its last four games to end the season at 2-8. Despite the tough finish, Johnson gained from the experience.
“It was teaching me some life lessons; coach [Charlie] Gallagher tells us stories about cowboys riding on a horse coming into town, things like that ” said Johnson. “It just felt like family, the whole football team was a bunch of brothers.”
This week, Johnson will looking to bond with a new family on the West squad.
“I just want to have fun playing football with guys I have never played football with,” said Johnson. “I have a job at the YMCA and and I lift and work out there to stay in shape.”
Playing football one more time with PHS teammates, Connor Coffee, Steve Hennessy, and Evan Angelucci, who are also on the West squad, will be a lot of fun for Johnson.
“I want to play with those three guys, I love those guys,” said Johnson. “I am ready to go.”