Johnson was Nolehi's 'Mr. Versatile'
When a coach asks you to change positions for your senior season, most high school football players would flinch, open eyes as wide as they could, and take a deep gulp.
Not Caleb Johnson.
The 6-4, 215-pound Northern Lehigh senior didn't miss a beat when Bulldog head coach Joe Tout asked him to make the move from wide receiver to tailback.
The move worked so well, Johnson wound up running out of the backfield full time by the third game of the season against Saucon Valley.
His versatility also showed on defense and special teams, making him the 2012 TIMES NEWS Football Player of the Year.
Johnson's honor made it the fourth year in a row a member of the Northern Lehigh football team received the award. Cody Remaley won it back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 and Trevor Yashur captured the title in 2011.
"A testament to him, he made our team better this year," Tout said when asked to talk about his accomplishments. "He never played tailback and we made him move there offensively with the understanding that we need to get him the ball.
"What he did a real good job of was making everyone around him better as he learned how to play that position."
Johnson finished as the leading rusher on the team and No. 2 in The TIMES NEWS area with 1,064 yards on 157 carries for a 6.78 yards per carry average. He was the leading scorer on the team with 20 touchdowns and two two-point conversions for 124 points.
"We actually, as a staff, went back and forth," said Tout explaining why the move was made. "I suggested running him at fullback because historically, with a strong kid like Kirk Bender last year and Matt Gill the year before, we've always had that strong fullback, a kid that loves to hit and that's Caleb. What it came down to was agreeing that we need to get this kid the ball.
"It was actually after the second game of the year that we made the move. We used him a little bit out of the spread offense on the option earlier and the success he had with the ball in his hands made us do it."
Tout was lucky enough to have such an intelligent player, who has verbally committed to continue his education and football career at Harvard, to put in the position.
"With the coaches we have it was really easy to learn the position," Johnson said. "Having the linemen we had in front of us made it a good time. They blocked real well and made it easy on me."
It was some of the other things that Caleb did on special teams and defense that some of the people didn't notice.
"I can't complain, I'd do whatever they want," said Johnson. "I'd play center if they asked me. I loved special team because it's fun flying around and hitting people. That's part of the family pride and joy since my brother Dalton did that last year. I had to carry the tradition on."
Johnson wound up with 120 tackles, four fumble recoveries, one interception and one sack in 11 games.
"When we kept him out at split end, they would see the great catches," Tout quipped. "Defensively, we would keep him on the inside and he didn't have the big hits like he did in the past when he was outside linebacker because he would just get more room to run there. What people didn't notice was that we would take him off the field for offense or defense before we would take him off our special teams. When we took him off of a kickoff team early on because we felt he needed a break, we had to stop doing that. He literally had an impact on every kickoff.
"You have some guys who don't want to play on special teams, but Caleb loved it. He loved doing all of those little things. And then we'd put him back to return kicks. He just did so many little things, that helped us this year."
Tout said that they'll miss the type of leader that Johnson was on the field.
"He's a different type of leader," Tout said. "He's not a yeller or a screamer. He's not the type of kid who is going to grab another kid in the locker room and tell him what to do. He just leads by example and the kids all love him."
Johnson points at the Northwestern game this year as one he'll remember the most from his high school career.
"To play our rivals like that, we started a little rocky, but I think we made a statement in that game," he said.
Johnson is looking forward to making the team at Harvard, where they have him listed as a linebacker, but hopes to crack the lineup on special teams right away.
"It's a great place with a lot of football tradition, plus I'll get a good education.
Johnson also credited the coaching staff for the team's overall success.
"The coaching staff here at Northern Lehigh really hits home with the kids," Johnson said.
"They really buy into the system. The rising seniors are over there lifting already."
It's an all-year process under the watchful eye of the staff and it shows every year when the fall rolls around.