Eli Johnson’s impactful season with the Springwood Wildcats

Published 11:34 am Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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Every senior athlete hopes to leave an impact on their school and athletic program. Few can say that they have been as loyal and as impactful as Eli Johnson has been for the Springwood Wildcats. 

Johnson has been a true Wildcat. Johnson began going to school at Springwood in the first grade and never left the program. Then, Johnson started on Springwood’s baseball team as a freshman and began playing for the Wildcats on the gridiron that same year. 

Johnson has seen all the peaks and valleys at Springwood, but he has seen a ton of success with the program during his final two years of high school. 

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Johnson played both wideout and defensive back as a junior and senior as the Wildcats finished as state runner-ups in back-to-back seasons. In his senior season, Johnson was one of the team leaders in the secondary with 60 tackles. 

“Obviously, we had a ton of success,” Johnson said. “It’s fun to go out there every day and play with your best friends and have success doing it.” 

Johnson was electric for Springwood on the gridiron, but his true love was always on the diamond. Johnson started playing baseball as early as he could remember and immediately fell in love with the sport. 

“Baseball has always really been my favorite,” Johnson said. “I’ve been playing baseball with these guys since I was 12 years old. To finish it out with my best friends, it was really fun.” 

Johnson’s senior baseball season was far different than any other year in the past. The Wildcats lost Dylan Reeves and Luke Hudson before the season as the two sustained significant injuries during football season. 

With those two guys down for at least most of the season, Johnson had to step up as one of the few seniors on the team. Johnson did that, serving as the team’s ace on the mound while also leading the team with a .333 batting average. 

“Those two guys, they’re both very good athletes and even better people,” Johnson said. “It was tough not getting to play with them, but me and Brayden Moseley just decided it was our show now. We decided to step up. Obviously, our team was young… Obviously, we want to win, but baseball is a fun sport. We just wanted them to go out there and have fun and enjoy what they were doing.” 

Springwood’s football program faced a lot of challenges during Johnson’s time at Springwood. Before head coach Joey Burch took over in 2022, Springwood was on the verge of losing the football team completely. 

Coaching changes and a lack of success on the field had killed the participation of the team. Springwood had to go to 8-man football because of that lack of participation, and that saved the program. 

In the midst of all these challenges, Johnson and several other seniors debated on calling it quits. Johnson decided to stick with the team and Burch, and he eventually reaped the benefits of his loyalty. 

“Coach Burch really helped us out. Before him, it was a struggle,” Johnson said. “We are all debating on if we were going to play football. We had that reputation that we would go out there and play, but we’re not going to have success doing it. I think coach Burch changed the mentality of that.” 

Burch, Johnson and several others believe that the switch to 8-man saved the football program. The team has seen an unprecedented amount of success within the 8-man league. 

Springwood’s athletic program continuously saw growth while Johnson was in high school, but he also experienced a lot of personal growth along the way. 

“I’ve always started on [the] baseball team, but football was kind of new to me,” Johnson said. “It really helped me out. I feel like I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in… It really helps you believe in yourself that you can do it.” 

During Johnson’s senior year, Springwood has seen more success across all programs than it possibly ever has. The football team advanced to the state championship, the soccer team won another state championship and both basketball teams had one of the best seasons in program history. 

All of that success is largely due to Johnson’s senior class. The group has stuck around through everything and has left a profound impact on Springwood athletics. 

“We have a very athletic class,” Johnson said. “I think it’s very important that we all stayed at it. We were kind of that class to be bottom of the pack and losing everything to bringing it back and competing in final fours and state championships. I think it’s helped us grow together a lot.” 

Johnson built a family at Springwood, but his own family was also there for every stop along the way. Johnson’s mom acted as the team photographer. She captured some of Johnson’s best moments, and it will be something that Johnson will always remember and look back on. 

Johnson’s time as an athlete has come to an end as he plans to continue his education in Auburn’s forestry program. Despite all the injuries, Johnson’s favorite moment during his senior season came on the diamond.
Reeves came back towards the end of the season. With Moseley on the mound, Reeves and Johnson turned a double play that acted as a proper send-off for all that the trio had experienced together at Springwood. 

“It’s kind of bittersweet, but it was the last play in the playoffs against Clarke Prep,” Johnson said. “Brayden, who hadn’t really pitched a lot, and me and Dylan in the middle infield. We turned the first double play of this year. It was picture perfect…. It kind of ended the year off right for us.”