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Central grad Johnson powers Butler to brink of national title

Butler Community College isn't too far removed from everything. Just most things.

A 20- to 25-minute or so drive gets you to a mall in Wichita.

But at Butler's main campus in El Dorado, there aren't many diversions for the typically talented crop of football players who flock to the junior college in hopes of moving on to a major Division I-A school.

The athletes, like Central Gwinnett grad and Butler sophomore Beau Johnson, are there to work on academics and football. Outside of that, video games get them through their free time. Football video games are always popular with the JUCO players, who dream of one day seeing themselves on a video game.

"We talk about that all the time, that next year we'll all be on the college (video) game," Johnson said. "You don't have to create yourself anymore."

Johnson has put himself in position to move on to a major college after two years at Butler, much like his good friend David Irons, a Dacula grad. Irons played at Butler before moving on to Auburn and then to the Atlanta Falcons, where he's a rookie cornerback.

A similar progression wouldn't bother Johnson, who expects to graduate next month and go through spring practice with whatever Division I college he selects from a handful of offers. He hasn't lined up visits yet from his list of suitors, which include Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Auburn, North Carolina, TCU, Kentucky and Troy.

"I'm not going to take any visits until after (Butler's) season," Johnson said. "I'm focusing on winning a national championship first. I've never had this opportunity before (to win a national title). The coaches are telling us it's the opportunity of a lifetime."

The National Junior College Athletic Association championship will be decided on Dec. 1 when second-ranked Butler faces top-ranked Snow College in a matchup of 11-0 teams. The Grizzlies are on the brink of a national title behind the efforts of its workhorse running back.

Johnson is third in the nation with 1,533 rushing yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He also has nine catches for 42 yards and has accounted for a team-high 17 touchdowns - 15 rushing, 1 receiving and 1 passing.

In Butler's most recent game - a 35-22 win over Fort Scott in the Region VI championship game - Johnson had 41 carries for 211 yards.

"It's fun to be the workhorse because I was kind of the workhorse in high school, too, and I love to run the ball," the 5-foot-11, 210-pounder said. "If I get the ball 30 times a game, or even 25, I'm really happy."

Johnson, a first-team All-Jayhawk Conference and All-Region VI selection, isn't the only former Gwinnett standout excelling at Butler.

The Grizzlies' top wideout is Tyrece Gaines, a freshman who played high school football at Norcross. The 6-2, 205-pounder leads the team in catches (22), receiving yards (400) and TDs (five).

"He's stepped up big, especially in the last six or seven games," Johnson said of Gaines.

FOOTBALL

Kenney racks up postseason honors

Dacula grad Cameron Kenney received more indidivual honors than any player in the Jayhawk Conference this year after a standout freshman season at Garden City Community College (Kan.).

Kenney was the league's special teams player of the year and a first-team selection at three positions - wide receiver, return specialist and punter.

He also was an honorable mention choice at kicker. He also was a first-team All-Region VI selection.

He finished with 1,139 yards of total offense, scored five TDs and averaged 41.8 yards per punt.

SoCon rewards Covington for switch

Brookwood grad Chris Covington, a junior defensive back at Georgia Southern, was honored on two All-Southern Conference teams this week - a first-team pick on the media team and a second-team selection by the league's coaches.

Covington led Georgia Southern in tackles (66), solo tackles (45), interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (2) in his first season at defensive back. He was the Eagles' leading rusher as a sophomore with 824 yards and eight TDs.

lagler, Hanna are first-teamers

Norcross grad DuVaughn Flagler and Collins Hill grad Michael Hanna, teammates at Gardner-Webb (N.C.), were named to the All-Big South Conference first team for the third straight year.

Flagler, a senior wide receiver, had 54 catches for 716 yards and nine TDs this season. Hanna, a junior punter, averaged 40.1 yards on 31 punts in 2007.

SOCCER

Ugarte helps GPC to runner-up finish

Georgia Perimeter College placed second in the National Junior College Athletic Association championship game last week, falling 4-3 (5-4 on penalty kicks) to Yavapai College (Ariz.).

Duluth grad Chris Ugarte was a key member of the 21-1-2 GPC team, scoring in the team's quarterfinal win over Baltimore County-Essex.

Johnson gets academic honor

Auburn junior Jennifer Johnson, a Greater Atlanta Christian grad, was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American Team for women's soccer. Johnson, a second-team selection, maintains a 4.0 GPA and also has started all 61 games in her career.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.