Tony Johnson was a standout in the Lynn Classical High School football program, excelling as a two-way starter for then-head coach Matt Durgin.
Just moments after receiving his plaque Thursday night for being named one of the top college football players in New England this season, Johnson reflected on Durgin’s influence in his life.
“Matt Durgin is one of the reasons why I’m here and one of the reasons I’m the man I am today and a lot my credit goes out to him,” said Johnson, a senior at Merrimack College who will graduate in May with a degree in Sports Management.
Johnson accepted his All-New England award at the New England Football Writers Captains and Awards Banquet at the Montvale Plaza in Stoneham.
Johnson, a 6-feet-3 1/2-inch, 240-pound defensive lineman, finished his career at Merrimack as the all-time sack leader with 36. He was named to the All-Northeast-10 Conference Team four times and was the defensive lineman of the year the past two seasons. He returned a fumble for a touchdown in a game against Pace.
“I’m grateful to the people of Lynn and especially the teachers, coaches, and administrator at Lynn Classical for all their support and the great foundation they set for me,” said Johnson.
Teammates at Merrimack, including fellow All-New England selections Isaiah Voegell and Shawn Loiseau, said he was a great teammate.
“Tony’s been a great leader in my three years here,” said Voegell, a junior wide receiver. “Coming in here freshman year Tony took me under his wing. We built a friendship not just on the football field but off the field as well and he’s one of the guys I’ve been able to look up to while I’ve been here. It’s been an honor to play football with him and have him as my captain.”
“It was a pleasure playing football with him the past four years,” said Loiseau, a senior linebacker. “Going into every game, knowing that other teams had schemes for Tony and me – you couldn’t have asked for a better guy to be playing on defense with; he’s a monster. He’s a great role model and leader and a great person.”
Head coach John Perry recruited Johnson from the Classical program.
“He was a prize recruit for us – kind of a coup,” recalled Perry. “Tony lived up to every billing that we thought. Coach Durgin told me at the time that he was going to be a great player. He exceeded every expectation that we ever had for him on the field. The fact that he’s going to graduate next May and he’s done as well as he has academically – we’re equally as proud of him in all the different facets that he’s brought to Merrimack College.”
Johnson was proud about the All-New England recognition. “It’s a great honor and it was one of my goals at the beginning of this year,” said Johnson. “I worked really hard this summer.”
He said he knows now that he made the right choice for college.
“I wouldn’t trade my four years here for anything,” said Johnson. “I made such great people and made such great friends. There are tremendous resources at Merrimack. I never expected it to be this big and this helpful as an experience as it was.”
Johnson, who is close to signing with a sports agent, has been invited to an NFL football combine in Virginia. He has been working out at Gridiron Training under the direction of former Bishop Fenwick and UNH football player Pat Downey.
Johnson said he attended the Classical-English game on Thanksgiving. “I’ve been to every Thanksgiving game since I graduated,” said Johnson.