Bishop hopes to make senior season special

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY -- Unlike the Beta VCR back in the 1980s, Johnson County defensive end Justin Bishop is worth the hype.
   Bishop returns for his senior season, and people are really taking notice of him.
   Bishop was a first-team All-Mountain Lakes pick last season at defensive end, and was also an All-Carter-Johnson selection.
   The accolades that Bishop earned in 2001 were treasured by him, but now he wants more.
   "It makes me want to make all-conference this year, and I would like to make all-state if there's any way I could," Bishop said.
   Bishop, who also plays center on offense, credits all the hype surrounding him to the move up from the Class 2A Watauga Conference into the Class 4A Mountain Lakes Conference, where last year he went up against some of the area's best athletes.
   Bishop thinks the move up in classification will help him get noticed more easily when the postseason teams come out statewide.
   "Since we moved up to 4A a lot of people are looking at us, knowing that we're coming back and playing harder," Bishop said.
   Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood felt like the season that Bishop had last year was truly special, and believes he deserved every honor he received.
   "I felt like he deserved all-conference," Atwood said. "It's a big honor, and especially in this 4A region to make all-conference from a school this size. But I think he's good enough to play for anybody."
   Now that the 2002 season begins Friday night for the Longhorns against South Greene, Atwood is hoping that Bishop will be a leader on this team.
   "We expect Justin to be a team leader on the field and off the field," Atwood said. "He's been here for four years. He knows about what we're doing every play, and should know about every position. He's going to be expected to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and really lead the defense.
   "He will have to be the leader of this defense. He's capable of making plays to change games around."
   Bishop is a player who has steadily gotten better as his career has progressed. Even though Bishop is not the biggest young man out there with his 6-1, 200 pound frame, he is a whole lot stronger than when he started at Johnson County.
   "When I came up here I was 145 or 150 and about 5-9," Bishop said.
   Bishop's dedication in the weight room has been key to his success. With his determination, he has gone from being a marginal player to earning all-conference status last season.
   "When I was a freshman I was probably medium on the team," Bishop said. "But now everybody's looking at me, and I got voted captain. That puts a lot of pressure on my back knowing that I've gotten better."
   Atwood recognizes how hard Bishop works in the weight room.
   "He's a hard worker in the weight room," Atwood said. "We've got him about 200 pounds. We wish he was a little bigger, but he's stronger than most 200 pound men. He's worked hard all summer, he's worked hard for four years. He deserves a good season. I hope it happens for him."
   Bishop and the senior class will be looking for their fourth-straight playoff berth this season. It would definitely be something special for this group and for Bishop.
   Bishop knows how far this program has come. The Longhorns had not been to the playoffs since 1988 until Bishop's freshman year.
   The fact that the Longhorns have become regular visitors to the TSSAA playoffs amazes Bishop.
   "It's kind of hard to believe how we've changed and turned around," Bishop said.
   Bishop is the latest in a long line of standout defensive ends at Johnson County. Bishop gets inspiration from East Tennessee State tight end Adam Cranford, who was a top-notch tight end and defensive end for the Longhorns in the late 1990's.
   "He works out in the weight room as hard as anybody I know of to get bigger and stronger to make it," Bishop said.
   Bishop hopes to join Cranford in the college football ranks after this season is over.
   "I would like to go play college football if I can get in a pretty good school for what I want to go for," Bishop said.
   Bishop isn't really thinking about college right now, as his focus is on the season opener Friday night.
   Bishop is hoping this will be a remarkable year in Mountain City.
   "Our line is strong," Bishop said. "We've got the strongest line we've had in a couple of years. Our defensive line is great. We're looking real good right now."