Danny Hill knows quarterbacks. During his senior season at Elma High School in 2002, Hill was an all-state selection at the position. He threw for 2,100 yards and 26 touchdowns while guiding the Eagles to a second consecutive Class 2A state championship game appearance.
So when Hill, as W.F. West’s head football coach, says returning starter Josiah Johnson has a chance to be something extremely special during his senior season, it carries considerable weight.
“His desire to win is second to none,” Hill said. “The thing I like most about him is the things you can’t coach. He has a savviness built into him.”
Maybe that’s because few players have been bred to be Bearcats more than Johnson.
His father has been a long-time assistant on W.F. West’s coaching staff. His older brothers, Toby and Elijah, were both standouts during their high school playing days for the Bearcats, the latter also playing quarterback for the team.
“It seems like I have been on this field my entire life,” said Johnson. He’s been on the sidelines since grade school, starting out as the team’s water boy before eventually being elevated to ball boy. “I’ve always dreamed about coming out here and playing.”
Johnson took over as W.F. West’s starting quarterback last year, throwing for 1,842 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading the team to the district playoffs.
The goal this year is clear for Johnson and his teammates: build on what they started last season, win the 2A Evergreen Conference and get back to the state playoffs.
“I think we have a good chance of going pretty far and getting to places we haven’t been in a while,” Johnson said. One large reason behind Johnson’s positive outlook is the simple fact that he is now in his second season under Hill’s watch.
“I really didn’t know a whole lot about coverages after my sophomore year,” Johnson said. “I’ve had Coach Hill teaching me all year. Last season it was kind of a madhouse. It was all so new to me. I was just trying to learn as much as I could.”
That meant Hill was frequently bombarded with questions from his signal caller, regardless of the place or time. “I definitely got some phone calls and texts from him at random hours of the night,” Hill said. “He would ask me about game situations and what he should be doing.”
Now with a full season under his belt, Johnson is asking fewer questions and serving up more answers, so much so that Hill is now fully comfortable with opening up the entire playbook in 2019.
“We have what we call concepts on offense. Last year we had one concept. We have eight in this year,” Hill said. “We won’t use all eight every game, but any given moment we have the ability to get into something that’s going to work better for us. We can adjust and do it on the fly and don’t spend every waking moment at practice making sure our guys are comfortable doing it in a game.”
While there were flashes of this last season, Hill really noticed the team starting to click and fully understand his offensive philosophy during spring football. Their understanding has only increased over the summer.
“We put in multiple things a day now,” Hill said. “They’re getting comfortable with it and now we can focus on the little nuances of each play.” It all begins with his veteran quarterback.
“He spends a lot of time learning the playbook and understanding his progressions and what he needs to do with the football,” Johnson said. “I’ve thrown a lot at him. We have a lot of things going on and he’s taken it in stride, and done a very good job with it.”
According to Johnson, a first-team all-conference quarterback as a junior, a lot of that has to do with Hill’s extensive knowledge of the position.
“It’s the greatest thing ever having him as my coach,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t want any other coach coaching me, especially since I’m a quarterback. He loves the position. He’s always thinking about what will work. He wants to be fast and that’s the way I like to play. It should be a really fun year for us.”
Part of that fun will be the fact that Johnson will have two of the EvCo’s top offensive players at his disposal in seniors Leandre Gaines and Jaiyden Camoza.
Gaines, a first-team defensive lineman last year, was also one of the conference’s top receiving threats, hauling down 38 passes for 600 yards and eight touchdowns. Meanwhile Camoza, who set a single-game school rushing record of 302 yards against Aberdeen, rushed for 599 yards and eight TDs despite being slowed with a leg injury early in the season.
The Bearcats open their season at River Ridge on September 6 and play their home opener on September 13 against Capital.