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‘Big Play AJ’ steps up his game at Hollis Brookline

Hollis Brookline receiver AJ Johnson

HOLLIS – When Hollis Brookline football coach Chris Lones uses the word, “uncoverable,” you tend to listen.

Here’s a guy who knows receivers who are “uncoverable.” Look at the recent list of his catching Cavaliers, including current all-stater Quinten Wimmer and past guys like Mike Gillespie, Matt Simco and Brian Delaney.

So when Wimmer wasn’t available for the opener with Milford, Lones didn’t panic. He knew the next man up, senior AJ Johnson was ready, willing and, of course, able.

Uncover-able.

“He’s a guy who has always been ready to step up,” said Lones of Johnson, who caught 23 passes for 246 yards as a junior. “We expect big things out of him this year. And we really need him again on Saturday.”

The Cavaliers, coming off a tough loss at Milford, aim for victory No. 1 when they host Hanover here at “The Swamp” on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.).

Johnson likes what he’s seen.

“It’s been a great week in practice, a lot of preparing, film, and guys hustling hard all week,” said Johnson.

Johnson expects to have a big year. The HB two-sporter – he plays defensive middie on the lacrosse team – was the perfect opposite slot man to Wimmer. But when Quinten couldn’t go, it was Johnson setting the tone with nine catches for 83 yards.

He was physical, perhaps too physical for the officials, who whistled Johnson for two “offensive facemasks” – one of the rarest penalties in football – in the first half.

“It was just a stiff arm, but hey, that’s football,” said Johnson, laughing off the poor luck with the men in stripes.

Johnson looks forward to taking his place in that succession of receivers at HB.

“I learned so much from all those guys about the position. That’s a big part of playing here,” he said. “And honestly, the coaches are tremendous at teaching the offense, not just teaching you to play the position. It will come naturally when you know the offense, and they really make sure we do.”

Johnson doesn’t have a favorite route. He just makes sure he catches everything QB Sander Wimmer fires his way.

“I try to make all my routes, my best routes,” said Johnson, who has been playing football since the fourth grade.

But he’s more than just an athlete.

Johnson dabbles in the arts, too. He’s a tenor in an a capella singing group. And folks around the HB drama department still rave about his performance as “David” in the musical, “Almost Maine.”

He spent much of the summer on the road, looking at college possibilities and is peering hard at the University of New England in Maine, where he’d like to play football and study biology on his way to being a dentist.

But right now, the focus is football, the Cavaliers and stacking victories, starting this week against Hanover.

“Whenever you have a really good player (like Quinten) down, you have to step up. The whole team has to adjust,” said Johnson. “We did that in the second half against Milford. Guys like (receivers) Blake (Bergerson) and Zach Redus really made some big plays. Now we have to do that from the opening kickoff.”