Daniel Johnson could be a very busy person in early December. The Ridgeland High School senior, in fact, is counting on it.
Johnson, a three-year starter in football, found out Thursday during a schoolwide assembly that he will be in New York the week of Dec. 8 after being named one of the six male finalists for the Wendy's High School Heisman Award. The national winner will be announced in New York as part of the awarding of the Heisman Memorial Trophy to the nation's top collegiate player.
Johnson could also be playing football Dec. 7 if the Panthers survive into the Class AAAA semifinal round. It's a conflict he would gladly find a way to work around.
"We'll make it work," beamed a surprised Johnson, who was chosen out of 45,000 original nominees for the award that recognizes a student-athlete's work academically, athletically and in the community. "I didn't think I had much of a chance, and it's very humbling to know that of all the student-athletes in the country that I'm one of six. I'm ready to go to New York. I get to meet guys like Herschel Walker and Mark Ingram and Robert Griffin III, so I can't wait."
Johnson, a linebacker, is the captain of Ridgeland's football and baseball teams. He has a 4.0 grade point average, is senior class president and is in the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America. He becomes the first male from Georgia to be a national finalist since the program was conceived in 1996.
Macon's Margaret Midkiff also became the first Georgia female finalist this week.
"I guess Georgia is showing out right now," Johnson said. "This shows what a great school we have here and what great resources we have and how lucky we are to be at a school that has such a great academic and athletic program."
Football coach Mark Mariakis watched along with school and county administrators as Johnson accepted his award. They were obviously proud of Johnson, but also for what the award means to the school.
"It's one of the biggest national honors a high school athlete can win, and it's a testament to all the hard work in the classroom and on the field he's put in," Mariakis said. "It's also a hat's off to Ridgeland in providing the opportunity for a kid to achieve something like this."
Added Walker County Schools' superintendent Damon Raines: "Daniel is such a great citizen, and other kids can look up to him, for sure. We're proud of all our kids in Walker County and their accomplishments, but especially something like this that brings national attention to Daniel and his family, but also the programs that are going on here."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...