MOULTON — When Colton Johnson steps onto the football field for Lawrence County’s first game of the season, it will be his 33rd varsity game.

Despite all that experience going back to his freshman season, the senior linebacker still has a tiny disagreement with the officials on one aspect of the game.

Officials say the play is over when you hear the whistle. Johnson thinks the play is actually not over until he puts a charge into the opponent and brings him to the ground.

“I just love to hit,” Johnson said. “I want to hit somebody every play.”

Sometimes that tiny difference of opinion can bring out a flag for a late hit or unnecessary roughness. That can also mean time in the sand pit the following week under the supervision of head coach Rich Dutton.

“Nobody likes having to spend time in the sand pit,” Johnson said. “That’s not fun, but nobody likes penalties either, especially Coach Dutton. I don’t blame him.”

When it comes to football, some players seem to be born with an extra sense that allows them to thrive in the collision sport. Johnson fits in that category. It doesn’t hurt for him to be 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and blessed with good speed.

“I’ve been clocked at 4.7 in the 40, but I feel like I have an extra gear when I get on the football field,” Johnson said. “I can go inside and fight my way for a tackle. I can go outside and run down whoever has the ball."

Dutton said that Johnson’s size and range make him special, but his football IQ makes him even better.

“He’s a fighter and a grinder with a lot of energy,” Dutton said, “but his experience has made him a really smart player. That helps him find ways to make big plays.”

The son of Donnie and Crystal Johnson hopes he can add leadership to his resume. He thinks leadership may be the most important thing his team needs this season. After three straight seasons of advancing to the Class 5A playoffs, Lawrence County slipped last season and won just two games.

“My sophomore season was exciting,” Johnson said. “We won some big games and made it to the playoffs.

“Last season was not fun. We weren’t a close team and we didn’t really play like a team. This season is going to be different. Everybody is close on this team. We do a lot of things together away from football. We are are all ready for a big season.”

The Red Devils face a challenging schedule. They open with Madison Academy on Aug. 30. Later they have road trips to Decatur and Jasper. There's also a big home game with Russellville. Jasper and Russellville are Class 5A, Region 7 rivals.

The Alabama Sports Writers Association preseason rankings have Jasper at No. 3 in Class 5A followed by Madison Academy at No. 4 and Russellville at No. 10. Decatur plays in Class 6A.

“A tough schedule is only going to make us better,” Johnson said. “It gives us the opportunity to celebrate a big win. It’s electric when you have a big win around here. We sure need one this season.”

 david.elwell@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2395. Twitter @DD_DavidElwell.

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