Kyle Johnson admits that on first glance he doesn’t look like he can run fast.
“To look at me, I’m all arms and legs,” the Lake City High senior wide receiver said, smiling.
Study the stride of the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Johnson long enough, though, and one’s mouth may fall agape. He seemingly has three speeds: fast, faster and fastest.
In Lake City’s 49-21 win at Kennewick earlier in the season, Johnson was defended by one of the Columbia Basin League’s speediest athletes, cornerback Robbie Mitchell. On a deep post play, Johnson and Mitchell were running side by side for about 20 yards. When Johnson realized the ball was in the air and headed his direction, he suddenly zipped past Mitchell, catching the ball in stride and finishing off a 54-yard touchdown connection.
“He has the ability to separate from people when the ball’s in the air,” LC coach Van Troxel said.
So confident is Johnson in his aptitude that he tells quarterbacks Zach Clanton and Tommy Anderson to throw the ball as far as they can “and I’ll go get it.”
Johnson played behind a couple of seniors last year for the first half of the season. He rotated with them as the players who took the play into the quarterback from Troxel.
By mid-October, Johnson got his chance to start against Post Falls.
“Before the game the coaches told me they were making a change,” Johnson said. “They said, ‘Show us that this is a good change.’ I felt a lot of pressure.”
Johnson responded, catching a pair of TD passes.
Two weeks later, in a regular-season finale against Lewiston, Johnson had his number called on the first play of the game on a streak route. Johnson, with arms fully extended, caught the deep pass in stride for a 51-yard TD. It’s a play assistant coach Kelly Reed begged to call on the first play all season.
Johnson finished LC’s 12-0 season with 24 receptions, second best on the team, for 559 yards and six TDs. He’s well on pace to eclipse those statistics this year. He has a team-leading 13 catches for 349 yards and four TDs through four games.
“He has a unique ability that is not coached or taught,” said Reed, a wide receiver when he played across town at Coeur d’Alene in the late 1980s. “You’re born with it. He can adjust his body to the ball after it leaves the quarterback’s hand. Whether it’s overthrown, underthrown, outside, inside – whatever. You never see him make a difficult catch because he can make it look so easy.”
His speed impressed the baseball coach staff at Washington State University. Johnson, who played center field last season, has made an oral commitment to play there next season.
“That’s what they fell in love with,” Johnson said. “He (WSU coach Donnie Marbut) said I’m one of the fastest guys he’s ever recruited.”
Troxel had Johnson run 12 40-yard dashes last spring when college football coaches visited LC in a two-week period. Johnson’s times ranged consistently from 4.35 to 4.39.”Potentially he could be the fastest kid in the state,” Troxel said.
Troxel wouldn’t put a number on it, but he said Johnson will figure more into his offensive plan as the season progresses. As will another speedy receiver, Kyle Graves, and running back B.J. Palmer, who, along with Graves, are just a few hundredths of a second behind Johnson, who also sees situational duty at cornerback.
“We’re going to make a commitment to throw the ball more,” Troxel said.
Johnson, who has a 3.85 GPA and is LC’s student body president, wears two rings. On one hand is the ring signifying LC’s unblemished run to the state football championship. On the other hand is the ring celebrating the T-Wolves’ state baseball title last spring.
He wants to add two more rings this year. LC, which has a bye this week, is 4-0 and ranked No. 1 in the 5A poll. The T-Wolves have played well in stretches – similarly to last year.
In baseball, LC will return eight of nine starters. So the chances of Johnson adding another ring to his collection are good.