It’s probably not surprising that all four local teams that reached their respective football state championship games put up stellar defensive numbers.
Rigby, Skyline, Sugar-Salem and Firth were all among state leaders in fewest points allowed and each featured all-conference and all-state standout players.
But there was one player who demanded a coach’s attention on game film.
“He just jumps off the film,” Bonneville coach Kevin Kempf said of Rigby linebacker Landon Johnson, the 2020 All-Area Football Player of the Year.
Bonneville didn’t play Rigby this past season, but Kempf, formerly the Bees’ defensive coordinator, knows a good defender when he sees one. And so do other coaches.
“He was just fundamentally sound,” Hillcrest coach Kevin Meyer said. “He runs down hill, he attacks the line of scrimmage. Some kids have a nose for the ball and he’s as good as I’ve seen all year.”
In a season with plenty of Player of the Year candidates, the area’s top defensive player gets the nod. Rigby came up short of back-to-back 5A state titles, but it was the Trojans’ defense that kept them in the title game, a 17-14 loss to Rocky Mountain. Their defense shined all season, despite being overshadowed at times by a potent offense.
“He probably had more impact on the outcome of our games because of his play than a lot of our guys,” Rigby coach Armando Gonzalez said. “I think he was the most dominant player on either side of the ball in this area.”
Johnson, a three-year starter, was the High Country Conference defensive player of the year and a first-team all-state selection. He recorded 95 solo tackles, 25 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He also forced four fumbles and was a short-yardage back when needed.
“He could definitely impact the game,” Skyline coach Scott Berger said. “He’s their catalyst on defense.”
Rigby’s defense came up big in the playoffs with key stops in a 35-28 win over Eagle and a 26-19 victory over Mountain View. Turnovers put the Trojans in an early hole in the 5A championship game against Rocky Mountain, but the defense was still unyielding, holding the Grizzlies, who came in averaging nearly 41 point per game, to just 17 points.
Area coaches noted Rigby’s overall strength on defense, but Johnson was still the player who stood out.
“When he hits someone they went backwards,” Blackfoot coach Jerrod Ackley said.
Johnson said he hasn’t decided on a college yet, but Idaho State, the College of Idaho and Montana Tech have shown interest.