This city is no stranger to standout receivers.
John Cole, who starred at Somerset before playing at Vanderbilt University, remains the state leader in touchdown receptions (69) and receiving yardage (4,981) after finishing his career in 2007. Allen Sexton, another Briar Jumper, was a three-time All-State first-teamer and in 1982 was named Kentucky High School Player of the Year — the award that would later be known as Mr. Football. Storm Wilson finished as Somerset High’s third all-time leading receiver but opted to play college baseball at UK.
Jake Johnson, a Pulaski County senior, is the latest shooting star to streak up the sidelines of this southern Kentucky town.
He’s on the precipice of breaking the state record for career receptions, a mark of 275 set by Trinity star James Quick during his senior season in 2012. Johnson is six catches away from eclipsing that total and, barring injury, is certain he’ll do it at home Friday night against Harlan County in the Don Marshall Bowl.
“Coach (John) Hines is making sure it’s gonna happen Friday night,” Johnson said with a laugh.
Also within range this season are Cole’s touchdown and yardage records. Johnson is sitting at 3,913 career yards (sixth in the record books) with 46 touchdowns (tied for eighth). However tantalizing the prospect of overtaking someone he watched play, Johnson insists making a fourth straight trip to Bowling Green is the most important goal for him and the Maroons this season.
“Stats will just come along the way,” he said.
Johnson has received interest from Eastern Kentucky, Purdue, Tennessee Tech and Wofford, and holds offers from several lower-division schools. A 175-pound 6-footer, he doesn’t quite have the body of a Division I receiver. But neither do Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, two guys who’ve made a pretty decent living catching the pigskin.
For the last three seasons, two-time Mr. Football candidate Riley Hall was throwing his way. With Hall now at Georgetown College, Johnson thinks more coaches are waiting to see his first few game films playing with sophomore Wiley Cain before making a final decision on whether to offer him. He’s put in all the work he can on the offseason circuit.
“It’s definitely hard to go to camps and a coach not knowing you, to stick out ’ cause they don’t expect a 6-foot, 175-pound white boy to go out there and ball out,” Johnson said. “... I enjoy being underrated, if you will. It’s fun. Hopefully coaches will realize this year that I can play at a Division I school.”
A characteristic Johnson thinks makes him stand apart from a crowd of slightly taller, slightly more athletic receivers?
“My elusiveness,” he said. “As soon as I catch the ball I feel like I know where the defense is, and where and when to make my cuts.
“... I also catch well in traffic so if a school wants to put me at slot receiver, I can be a possession receiver. I have good hands and I can break tackles and break loose for a big gain.”
Johnson has no bigger advocate than Hines, who’s in his 23rd season guiding the Maroons. Hines has already coached one state record-setting player — last season Derek Burgett capped a streak of 87 consecutive extra points, eclipsing the previous mark by one kick — and is thrilled to see a “yes sir, no sir” kid like Johnson about to blow up.
“We feel like it’s our record, and someday when you flip over the record book and you look at the top of the receiving record and there’s Jake Johnson, Pulaski County,” Hines said. “That’s a PC guy and that’s a big deal for us.
“We’re probaly more thrilled about it than he is. He’s more of a team guy. I really don’t think breaking this record is weighing on his mind too much but it’s on our mind. We want it and we want it bad.”