A total of nine EMCC players from head coach Buddy Stephens’ 8-2 MACJC North Division championship squad earned postseason honors. Along with Johnson, wide receiver Corey Smith, defensive lineman Za’Darius Smith, and defensive backs Justin Cox and Shaquille Fluker collecting NJCAA All-Region 23 and MACJC All-North Division First Team accolades, wide receiver Nick Brassell also garnered first-team all-state honors. In addition, offensive lineman Avery Gennesy, defensive lineman Jarran Reed and linebacker Christian Russell received second-team all-state recognition.
A 6-foot-1, 225-pound freshman signal caller, Johnson ranks among the top five nationally averaging 284.6 passing yards per game with 27 touchdown passes. A two-time NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week and three-time MACJC/jucoweekly.org Offensive Player of the Week, Johnson completed 59.3 percent (227-of-383) of his passes for 2,846 yards on the year. The former Starkville High School product also ranked as the Lions’ second-leading rusher this season with 540 yards, including a team-most 12 rushing touchdowns. Having accounted for 39 total touchdowns through the air and on the ground, Johnson averaged 338.6 yards of total offense per contest.
With Johnson’s 2012 selections, the EMCC Lions have now touted the NJCAA Region 23 Offensive Back MVP four times in the five seasons Stephens has been at the East Mississippi football helm. Previously, former Lion quarterbacks and current Ole Miss starters Bo Wallace (2011) and Randall Mackey (2008 & 2009) earned regional offensive honors. This season also marks the fifth consecutive year that EMCC has boasted the MACJC North Division Offensive Back MVP, which includes 2010 honoree and current Northwestern State (La.) quarterback Brad Henderson.
Offensively, Smith and Brassell led the Lions’ potent receiving corps with 51 and 48 catches, respectively. A transfer from Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College by way of Akron, Ohio, Smith (6-1, 180) averaged 14.4 yards per reception and ranks among the NJCAA’s top-10 leaders with nine touchdown grabs on the year.
Brassell, formerly at Ole Miss following an honor-laden prep career at South Panola High School, averaged 13.8 yards per reception for the Lions with six scoring catches. Brassell (6-1, 180) capped his EMCC campaign by hauling in a dozen passes for 191 yards and a touchdown in the Lions’ heart-breaking 47-46 setback to Copiah-Lincoln in the MACJC State Semifinals.
Cox, a former Mississippi State signee, highlights EMCC’s five defensive honorees. Tied for seventh among the NJCAA ranks with six interceptions this season, Cox (6-3, 190) has been tabbed the 2012 MACJC North Division Defensive Back Most Valuable Player. The former West Point High School product also led the Lions with 10 pass breakups on the year along with tying for second on the club with 52 total tackles. For his two-year East Mississippi career, Cox totaled 119 tackles, 11 pass interceptions and 19 pass breakups.
Another vital part of an EMCC defensive secondary that ranks fifth nationally with 22 pass interceptions as a team on the season, Fluker (6-2, 205) tied for second on the team with former Meridian High School teammate Jason Yarbor with five interceptions, including one pick for a touchdown. The University of Georgia commit was also credited with 34 total tackles and four pass breakups this season.
The Lions’ leading tackler among defensive linemen this season, Za’Darius Smith had 47 total tackles (30 solos and 17 assists) as a sophomore, including a team-most 6.5 sacks for 47 yards and another three tackles for loss. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound defensive end from Greenville, Ala., was also credited with four forced fumbles, two pass breakups and an interception on the year.
Russell (6-1, 240) and Reed (6-4, 310) are both North Carolina natives who were also teammates a year ago at Hargrave Military Academy. Russell, a linebacker from Fayetteville, topped all EMCC defenders with 77 total tackles (50 solos and 27 assists) this season, including six stops behind the line of scrimmage. He was also credited with four fumble recoveries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. Reed, a nose guard hailing from Goldsboro, had 34 total tackles (19 solos and 15 assists), including four tackles for loss and a sack.
A freshman from Southaven, Gennesy (6-6, 320) helped anchor the Lions’ offensive line from his left tackle position.