Johns looking to lead Franklin Regional football

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Saturday, August 10, 2019 | 7:33 PM


If Justin Johns decides to attend the Air Force Academy, don’t look for the Franklin Regional senior to become the next “Top Gun.”

“I think I’m too big to be a pilot,” Johns said, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior. “It’s a great offer though.”

While flying airplanes isn’t in his future, Johns is ready to pilot the Panthers defense. He is one in a long line of standout middle linebackers to play for Franklin Regional.

Bryce Lauer, the starting defensive end at Towson State, is the team’s all-leading tackler with 368, including 300 overall in his final two seasons. He graduated in 2017.

Others memorable linebackers to play for the Panthers include Brett Zanotto, now at Duquesne, and Carter Henderson.

Johns enters his final season with 252 tackles. He had 122 tackles last season.

“We’ve been blessed with linebackers here,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “We’ve had a freshman start here for the last four or five years. Justin started as a freshman and made an impact right away.”

Johns teamed up with Lauer his final two seasons at Franklin Regional, and he said he learned watching how Lauer prepared and played.

“His aggressive nature is definitely the reason I play or try to play that way,” Johns said. “How he flowed downhill to make plays was impressive, and I like his mentality for the game.

“He had fun with it and that’s why I try to have fun with it. He helped me my freshman season and then I developed more as a sophomore.”

Now, it is Johns’ turn to help the next feature middle linebacker.

Working beside him is senior Brock O’Block, who missed his junior season with a hip injury, and senior Anthony Damico, who started a few games and has gotten bigger.

“We’re definitely going to be tough in the middle,” Johns said.

On the outside is brother Colton Johns, a junior, who will be playing a key role.

“How we play on defense hinges on how he performs,” Botta said of Justin Johns. “He’s a tough, physical kid who loves the game of football. He’s very intelligent, well over a 4.0 (GPA) at Franklin Regional. He’s a kid that runs our defense and makes all the calls.”

Botta said a lot of colleges are looking at Johns, and they just want to see some more tape from his senior season.

“Coaches have asked me if he can guard a receiver,” Botta said. “I told them if you want him to guard a wide-out or a slot receiver, no. If you ask him to cover a back out of the backfield, he’ll defend him for a good 10 yards or so.”

Botta said Johns runs the 40-yard dash in about 4.7 seconds.

“A lot of schools aren’t recruiting big, physical inside linebackers,” Botta said. “He’s getting looks from the Patriot League and Ivy League. I’m surprised he’s not getting more action.”

Johns said he expects more offers to come. Right now he’s focused on helping Franklin Regional challenge for the WPIAL Class 5A Big East title.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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