Cranford, Johnson serve as catalysts for 'Horns' team

Daniel Cranford

Adam Johnson

By Michelle Pope
As many people know, and a drive through Mountain City will prove, the Johnson County Longhorns are not lacking in spirit and determination. As last year's underdogs, the Longhorns are now tied at the top of the conference this season, and are hoping for the playoffs.
With a deeper look, one will find the heart of the team throbbing in two young men with a long-standing love of football.
Daniel Cranford, the team's noseguard, and Adam Johnson, a defensive end, both seniors, were chosen by their team to be captains, a responsibility they each take very seriously.
"After summer conditioning, you're going as hard as you can go, two times a day, as hard as you can run, getting in shape," Cranford recalled. "The team gets to choose who tries the hardest and does the best as a leader; who will take you into battle and bring you back out."
On a team that prides itself with its defense, it seems only fitting that the two players that make up the defensive soul of the team serve as captains.
"At the six o'clock in the morning practices we had all summer, they were the first two here, and they were the last ones to leave," said defensive coach Austin Atwood.
"In the weight room, all year long, during basketball season, they were there every workout. Most of our kids were, but everybody missed every now and then. I think Cranford missed zero days, and Adam might have missed two or three. They were a little more dedicated during the off season."
Daniel Cranford, nicknamed 'Pinky' because of his fiery red hair, has always strived to play well because of the inspiration his older brothers, who were also star football players, have been to him.
"What really got me into football was my older brother, Adam," he said. "He was all about being strong, and being that best that you can be." Cranford first started playing his seventh grade year.
As the older Cranford inspired Daniel to play hard, he also sparked Cranford's interest to continue playing football on a collegiate level. Cranford said his brother always wanted to go to college and play football, and he wants to do the same.
"That was a really big deal to me," Daniel said.
Towering over his teammates at 6-7, Adam Johnson's urge to play football first struck when he was in elementary school.
"I just heard about flag football, and I've played ever since," Johnson laughed. "This is my 10th year playing football."
Cranford and Johnson both gush versatility. Atwood said that he and Mike Atwood, the head coach, moved Cranford from noseguard to defensive end, and then to middle linebacker, and have discussed placing him on the corner a few times.
"You just don't have any limits to what you can do with them," said Atwood.
Recently, Cranford has also been playing more offense than the coaches had originally planned for him. Cranford has made 19 carries for 111 yards so far this season, and has scored two touchdowns.
"Adam is the same way," Atwood said. "We can move him from the strong side end to the weak side end. We really feel like Adam, with his skill, has got some people looking at him, people that think they can put a little bit of weight on him. If they can get him somewhere from 245, 250 pounds, he can play somewhere big."
The defensive duo have played football their entire high school careers, and have both started their junior and senior years. As captains, they command the team's respect and cooperation, a task that both agree is not difficult, since the younger players are eager to look to them as leaders.
"It's a lot about the leadership," Johnson said. "When we come together and play as a team, we do great. You don't want to let the team down. If they think we're not going as hard, then they can't. Being captain puts a lot more on us to play harder. "
"It seems like if you don't go hard, everybody else wants to go home," Cranford added. "If you aren't talking, they aren't talking. If you aren't playing, they aren't playing."
"When you're captain, you want to play your hardest, and play your best, and try to do everything right. They look up to you. When you talk, they listen; when you play, they watch."
When asked what drives them to play as hard as they do, the answer came quickly and confidently. The desire to win. "Everybody wants to be the greatest," Cranford said. "Either win or lose, still, you want to be the greatest either way. I think just wanting to win, that's the drive. It makes everybody want to try hard."
After seven games, Johnson has averaged eleven tackles a game, and has made nine quarterback sacks. He knocked down three passes, and caused the opposing team to fumble the ball twice.
Cranford averaged twelve tackles a game, and has tallied seven sacks this season. He has caught one interception, and recovered three fumbles.
As if serving as leaders and role models to the rest of the team weren't enough for Cranford and Johnson to be responsible for, they also find themselves standing as the backbone to the other players, supporting them during losses, and encouraging them during wins.
"The coach does most of the talking after the game, but we try to get them ready for the next week," Johnson said. "We want to get them going."
The two captains spend their time in the locker room during halftime singling out players, and either guiding their play, or congratulating a job well done.
"Everybody has to be in the game," said Cranford. "It's not just one person, or two people, or three or four or five. It's the whole team. If the sidelines aren't up, it makes it hard for the team on the field to play hard."
Having been the young freshmen on the team before, Cranford and Johnson know how their less experienced teammates feel, and therefore can develop surefire tactics that will push them to better themselves as players.
"Getting whooped every play in your freshman and sophomore years makes you stronger. I think that's what helped me and Adam learn to play so hard," Cranford said.
"Our freshman and sophomore years, it was all business. Just like it is now, it's all business. You always play hard every play, and if you made a mistake, the older players helped you fix it. They were always on you, helping you do it right."
The position that Johnson finds himself in now is the same one he saw from a different point of view a few years ago. He now strives to be the driving power that spurs his teammates to play well.
"My freshman and sophomore years, they (the captains) really showed me a lot," Johnson said. "Because if we slacked off, we were laying on the ground. When we were freshmen, it hurt."
Besides being team leaders, Cranford and Johnson are also players that the coaches like to coach. "They're a joy to coach, on both sides of the ball," Atwood said.
"Me and Mike usually have arguments about where they're going to play during the week. Mike has always coached the linebackers, and I've always done defensive backs."
"He switched on me to have linebackers, but as soon as he went to linebackers, he moved Pinky down the line. He still has him in his group coaching him, so we all try to fight. Billy Icenhour, the line coach, and I, we all want him in our group during group time."
Cranford and Johnson hope to make the most of their last year playing for the Longhorns before they move on in their football careers.
"It's like a family," Cranford said. "Sometimes in practice, we don't get along, but when it comes game time, everybody just comes together and wants to play football. Your fans are there, your team is there. Everything just comes together."