The hope is Anthony Johnson doesn’t have enough free time to get homesick when he heads off to Kansas in June.
The South Pointe senior signed a full scholarship with Butler Community College on Tuesday in football coach Strait Herron’s office. Johnson will attend Butler on a full scholarship, split between the basketball and football programs. He’ll be incredibly busy during his time in Kansas, but that should be a good thing considering the amount of Rock Hill high school athletes that have returned home from unsuccessful junior college stints in the rural windswept state about a thousand miles away.
“I think I’ll do pretty good,” said Johnson, who is about as talkative as a librarian. “Just try to avoid coming home.”
Johnson should know. His father, Carlos Watkins, was a Rock Hill High School standout who went to Coffeyville Community College in the 1990s, but after one trip home, never went back to Kansas. Watkins has often told his son he regretted not going back.
Johnson believes the key to finishing his time at Butler, getting his academics sorted and continuing to improve as an athlete, is staying in Kansas as much as possible. Playing two sports will also keep him occupied.
“It’s gonna help, but as much as you put time into sports, you’re always going to be homesick,” said Melvin Watson, Johnson’s basketball coach at South Pointe. “You miss home cooking, being able to get in your car and go around the corner to Zeek (Rodney)’s house. He’s always going to be homesick a little bit; he’s just always got to remember the goal and stay the course.”
A number of junior colleges, including Hutchinson Community College and Georgia Military College, wanted Johnson for only one sport and two schools – Butler and Ellsworth Community College in Iowa – wanted him for both football and basketball.
“I wanted to do them equally,” Johnson said.
In 2012, Butler sent football players to the SEC, Big 12, ACC, Conference USA, American Athletic Conference and a slew of others. The list of players that the program has sent to Division I all-time is extensive.
“The numbers they have, that just speaks volumes for what you want out of a junior college,” said Herron.
When showed the list by Butler offensive coordinator Dale Vogel, Johnson remembers thinking, “I’ll be in one of those places one day.”
Herron and Johnson were impressed that Butler brought an academic plan for Johnson when they came to South Pointe on a recruiting visit. As part of the plan, he’ll enroll at the school in June so he can get ahead on his coursework.
“I think it’s a pretty good fit for me, to focus on my classes,” said Johnson. “I want to get my grades together, so I can go on to a D-I school.”
Whether that’s on the hardwood or gridiron remains to be seen. The junior college football season ends for most schools in early December, meaning Johnson will transition right into basketball. Watson knows it won’t be easy for Johnson, especially in basketball where he’ll be competing for playing time with teammates who are focused solely on one sport. Butler plays in the Kansas Jayhawk Conference, one of the best junior college basketball conferences in the country.
As a hooper for the Stallions, the 6-foot-4 Johnson averaged 17 points, eight rebounds and 2.4 steals per contest and was named All-State this past winter. Johnson was also a first team All-Area selection this season, after being named the 2013 All-Area basketball Player of the Year by The Herald. In football last fall, he was selected first team All-Area after hauling in 11 touchdown passes and making 46 catches for an average of over 20 yards per grab.
Not many athletes from South Carolina can say they played in all-star games in two sports, but Johnson did. He played in the Clash of the Carolinas all-star basketball game last month, as well as the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives North-South Bowl football game last December.
“He’s a special kid,” said Watson. “You go back three years when I first got the job that I knew he was something special. He was real vital to turning around this program. For him to have the opportunity to do both I think truly, truly speaks to the level of his ability.”
Herron said there is no question that Johnson is one of the premier athletes that he’s coached, or seen come out of Rock Hill.
“He ranks right up there with Stephon (Gilmore) and (Jadeveon) Clowney,” said Herron. “He has that ability. When someone over there can sit him down and show him what he needs to do to get to the next level and gets rid of all the other stuff, I think it’s gonna be something he takes and runs with it pretty hard.”
That kind of talent led to an outpouring of interest from junior colleges, especially when it became clear that he wasn’t going to qualify for the NCAA Clearinghouse.
The process – the interest from schools, wading through the decision, coaches pulling him in different directions – became a little overwhelming for Johnson around December. Everyone seemed to have some advice too; as Herron put it, “Rock Hill seems to have about 15,000 high school football coaches.”
After Herron heard Johnson utter in frustration that he might not even go to college, the South Pointe coach put the word out that “Litman,” as everyone calls Johnson, was in need of some encouragement. His cousins Johnathan Joseph and Jonathan Hefney were soon on the phone making sure he kept on the path out of Rock Hill.
“We started spreading the word, saying ‘Hey man, y’all guys need to get in touch with this guy because he doesn’t need to lose what he has,’ ” Herron recalls. “They called and basically told him, ‘You can’t blow this, you gotta go with it.’ ”
Finally, Johnson ended the process on Tuesday. But at some point, the soft-spoken athlete will have another big decision to make. He’ll probably have to choose between basketball or football.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile and a resigned sigh.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T