Thursday, May 28, 2009

Annual Gilmer Buckeyes 7-on-7 Tournament won by the hosts


The Gilmer Buckeyes’ varsity blanked the Pittsburg Pirates 39-0 in the championship game of the 9th annual Buckeyes’ 7-on-7 tournament to win the title for the first time in three years.

“It was really a good day for us, although we struggled all day,” said Gilmer head coach Jeff Traylor, who saw his team dominate their first game; lose their second game; then win in overtime of their third game to make it out of pool play.

Gilmer started the day with an impressive 61-18 thrashing of Class 4A Pine Tree. Buckeyes’ quarterback Darian “Stump” Godfrey threw touchdown passes on Gilmer’s first six possessions before giving way to backup Luke Turner, who threw touchdown passes on the Buckeyes’ final two possessions.

Godfrey connected with Turner on the first score, before consecutive touchdown passes to Tristan Holt and Paul Chesnut were sandwiched around a scoring strike to Ben Griffith. Turner’s touchdown passes went to Gus Osborne and Tevin Godfrey.

The Buckeyes’ other score came on a Mikey Wilson interception of a Pirate pass that was returned for a touchdown.

“Our defense carried us the whole day,” praised Traylor, who added, “I was very proud of Stump because we lost a lot of receivers from last year’s team and he worked the ball around to a lot of new faces.”

Gilmer’s only loss of the day came in the second game when Pittsburg squeaked past the Buckeyes, 19-15, despite Godfrey and Holt connecting on two touchdowns.

The Buckeyes barely made it out of pool play, trailing the Van Vandals by 13 points with just over five minutes to play, before a thrilling 33-32 win in overtime. Godfrey completed touchdown passes to Braylon Webb and Jeremy Jackson before touchdown passes to Tevin Godfrey and Griffith sent the game into overtime.

The Vandals scored on their first possession, but the extra point pass fell incomplete. Gilmer’s chances came down to a fourth down pass that a diving Daniel McLaren caught for a touchdown to tie the score. Jackson caught the extra point pass from Godfrey to win the game and send the Buckeyes into the semifinals.

“We could have quit in the Van game,” said Traylor. “But we made a great drive at the end to win it, and then played real well in the playoffs.”

Gilmer faced 2-time defending tournament champion Sulphur Springs in the semifinal. The Buckeyes got revenge for the Wildcats knocking them out of their own tournament the last two years with a 25-13 victory over the defending Class 4A State Champions.

Godfrey connected with Turner for the Buckeyes’ lone touchdown of the first half, trailing the Wildcats 13-6. Godfrey hooked up twice with Holt and once with McLaren in the second half to secure the win.

In the championship game, Gilmer made up for their only loss of the day with a dominating effort against Pittsburg. Godfrey connected with Kedon Franklin, Turner, Tevin Godfrey, and McLaren for touchdowns, while Griffith and Wilson both returned interceptions for touchdowns.

Gilmer’s junior varsity won their division, going 5-0 and defeating Van 34-30 in the championship game. The Buckeyes’ 9th grade team went 1-2. The Buckeyes’ Cole Lawhorn won the 9-10 grade obstacle course in the lineman’s challenge, while Colton Hill won the 9-10 grade quarterback sack challenge and the overall title.

Mirror Photos / Mary Laschinger Kirby
WINNING THE 7-on-7 Tournament at Buckeye Stadium Saturday, the Gilmer Buckeyes send, from bottom to top, Tristan Holt, Jeremy Jackson, Jacob Jenkins, Tevin Godfrey and Kedon Franklin into action with Darian “Stump” Godfrey and Landon ”Gus” Osborne in the backfield. Gilmer defeated Pine Tree, 61-18, lost to Pittsburg, 19-15, with three interceptions, and went into overtime to defeat Van, 33-32. In the semifinals, Gilmer defeated Sulphur Springs, 24-14, while Pittsburg won, 34-30, over Daingerfield. In the finals Gilmer blanked Pittsburg on the rematch, 39-0. The Gilmer JV beat the Van JV, 34-31, to win that title. In the photo below, five former Buckeyes now playing for Big 12 programs get together for a reunion. They are, from left, David Snow and Curtis Brown of the Texas Longhorns; Daniel Jenkins of the Missouri Tigers; and Justin Johnson and Lamar Harris of the Oklahoma Sooners.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Johnson brings former coach some souvenirs

Manuel Johnson brought his former coach, Jeff Traylor, some souvenirs from his collegiate career Wednesday.

The Dallas Cowboys draftee brought jerseys from the University of Oklahoma, the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. On two of the three, Johnson wore the number one.

“I never allow anyone to use number one here,” Coach Traylor mused as he looked at the East-West Shrine Game jersey, “and that is the number he wore.”

Many fans of the Gilmer Buckeyes, though, would be quick to acknowledge that if any alum of the school deserved to wear that numeral on his jersey, it would have to be the young man who led the Buckeyes to an undefeated 16-0 season and the state championship in 2004.

As a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys, Johnson has the number 87, his first 2-digit number.

“Yes, and I do not like it either,” Johnson commented.

Recently, the Upshur County native went to his first workout with fellow Cowboy draft picks. Johnson was picked in the seventh round. On the second of the three planned days of workouts, the Cowboys were working in the indoor facility at Valley Ranch when a downdraft of wind started breaking the facility up.

“I was on a down-and-out pattern when I saw the building breaking up, and I just kept going out,” said the wide receiver hopeful.

“When it flew, I flew,” Johnson told his aunt Lula Johnson.

Traylor plans to have the jerseys framed and mounted on the Field House wall where currently three jerseys hang from the three Buckeyes — Justin Johnson, Curtis Brown and David Snow — who have played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Mirror Photo / Mary Laschinger Kirby
RECEIVING SOUVENIRS from one of his former players who just concluded a successful collegiate career, Gilmer Athletic Director Jeff Traylor, left, takes the East-West Shrine Game jersey from the new Dallas Cowboys draft pick, Manuel Johnson, who played for the Buckeyes from 2002 to 2004 with Traylor as his head coach. Resting on Johnson’s arm is his jersey from the Senior Bowl, the first time he wore a 2-digit number. Johnson, a seventh-round selection out of OU, recently flew out of the collapsing Dallas Cowboy indoor practicing facility when it gave way during a thunderstorm at a rookie mini camp at Valley Ranch in Irving. He is wearing No. 87 for the Cowboys.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Legendary Buckeye star achieves another dream


The phone rang in the other room, and everyone held their breath.

“Hey, Daddy, I’m going to be a Dallas Cowboy!” came the shout from Manuel Johnson.

Minutes later, about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the ESPN2 channel flashed the message across the bottom of the screen: “Dallas Cowboys, Round 7, Number 229, Manuel Johnson, Oklahoma.”

Whoops and hollers went up in the home of Eleanor Johnson on FM 2263 in the Long Pine Community.

Lula Johnson started videotaping the reaction of her brother, Manuel Johnson, Sr., while her mother, Helen Johnson, stood in the doorway taking it all in. Manna Johnson, Reyven Osborne and Landon Osborne all joined in the celebration of the success of their cousin, Manuel Johnson, Jr., only the second National Football League draft pick in history from Gilmer High School.

Kenneth Pettway, the first GHS pick, was selected in 2005 by the Houston Texans in the seventh round out of Grambling State. He has spent four years in the NFL, playing for the Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Green Bay Packers. Kenneth Collier played for the Houston Oilers in the 60s, but that was when Houston belonged to the American Football League before the AFL-NFL merger.

Dee Mackey went from East Texas State to the San Francisco 49ers, but he played for Union Grove, not Gilmer.

It came later than he had hoped for, but Manuel Johnson was a seventh round pick of the Cowboys. The round before, the Cowboys had selected Stephen Hodge of Tatum and TCU.

The battles between Hodge and Johnson when they played for Tatum and Gilmer live on in the memories of Eagle and Buckeye fans. Now the two East Texans will be facing each other on the opposite sides of the line in the Cowboys’ summer camp.

“It’s a dream come true,” said his father. “The Dallas Cowboys! America’s team!”

“Remember all those videos we watched together of the Cowboys,” “Big Man” said to his son. “‘Little Man’ can tell you history [of the Cowboys] he’s too young to know because of those tapes.”

When Manuel got off the phone with Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner, the former Buckeye quarterback joined the happy throng.

“Jerry Jones told me that they needed to take care of the defensive backs first, and that I was the only wide receiver they took,” Manuel Johnson said. “He said they could not believe I went that late, and that they had their eye on me the whole time.”

Moments later, he was busy responding to text messages on his cell phone, as his cousins, aunts and friends were busy answering their cell phones.

In a few minutes, he was on the phone calling his coach, Jeff Traylor.

“I told you I thought it would be the Cowboys,” Johnson told his high school coach.

“To me, the draft pick just continues the legacy of Manuel Johnson,” Traylor said later to The Mirror.

“Today kids in Gilmer believe they can be state champions because of him,” Traylor continued, as he thought of the 16-0 season in 2004. “They believe they can qualify for a Division I college at a big time university and graduate because of him.”

“And now he goes to ‘America’s team,’” Traylor said. “We will never know how much a difference he has made, but it is no coincidence that we have had all the Division I players since he was [recruited by Oklahoma].”

And after Sunday, the young man called Manny Johnson by the television reporters prepares for the next phase of his career: a shot at joining a professional football team.

Mirror Photos / Mary Laschinger Kirby
TWO MANUEL JOHNSONS, the son, left, and the father let loose their excitement at the Oklahoma Sooner senior’s selection Sunday afternoon as a wide receiver by the Dallas Cowboys, as confirmed by his name flashing across the screen of the television in Eleanor Johnson’s home.

The P.R.I.D.E. of Gilmer, OU's Manuel Johnson, becomes a Dallas Cowboy

GILMER, Texas — It’s every little boy’s dream…at least the ones who grow up in East Texas. Be the star quarterback of the high school football team. Lead your team to a State Championship. Win the State’s Most Valuable Player Award. Go off to a major university on a football scholarship and score touchdowns on national television. Then get drafted by The Dallas Cowboys. Most guys don’t even get the privilege of experiencing the first two sentences of this paragraph. Then again, as anybody from Gilmer, Texas will tell you…Manuel Johnson is not “Most guys.”

One of Gilmer’s favorite sons, the All-State Wide Receiver, 3A State Player of the Year and State Champion, turned star Oklahoma Sooner Super Star, has now reached the stratospheric highlight of his athletic career…selected in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. To put it mildly, he is “Living the Dream.” And once again, Manuel Johnson has invited his home town along for the ride.

For those who really know Manuel, he’s about as “Small Town East Texas” as it gets. “Quiet, unassuming, friendly, cheerful, smart, hard working, and a great sense of humor.” All of these adjectives could be used to describe not only Manuel, but the wonderfully supportive family that raised him here in Gilmer, and for that matter the entire community that thinks of him as their “favorite son.”

But put Manuel Johnson in any kind of competitive situation and he turns into something entirely different — a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” type of personality switch that comes over him as soon as the word “win” enters the equation.

“Manny is like a ninja…” says former Oklahoma teammate, former Longview Lobo and now Washington Redskin, Malcolm Kelly. “He’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet…as long as you’re not lined up across from him. Then he turns into a killer. I watched him play in high school, and I saw him just refuse to let his team lose. I’ve seen it in the huddle at OU a million times. He gets that cold stare about him that says, ‘Just give me the ball and get out of the way!’ He may not be the biggest guy in the world, but whatever ‘IT’ is, Manny has ‘IT.’ People asked me when he was drafted in the seventh round if I thought he had a chance to make that team in Dallas. I told them whoever the Cowboys have starting in the slot better watch out, cause Manny doesn’t know how to sit and watch. He’ll come and take your job. I wouldn’t bet against him in a million years. Just watch his film and you’ll see it. All he does is go make plays, and that’s what the NFL is all about. I’m glad I’ll get to see him live twice a year now since we’re in the same division. But as a Redskin, I kind of hope they put him on special teams and let him go cover kicks or something. But if they figure out a way to put the ball in his hands, we might have some problems.”

For Gilmer Buckeye/Dallas Cowboy Fans in Upshur County and beyond, Manuel is again placed into the role of “Pioneer”; eager to deliver another gridiron “First” to the community he calls home. He was the first Buckeye 1st Team All-State Receiver in 2003. The following year, he was the first to be named State MVP, leading the Buckeyes to their first State Championship. He led the first class of Buckeyes to have commits to major D1 Football scholarships, and the first Buckeye to be named “Big 12 Player of the Week.” Now, Manuel is certainly the first from Gilmer to be drafted into the NFL as a Dallas Cowboy. So what is running through his mind, now that Manuel Johnson once again has the “Chance of a Lifetime” to break new ground in putting Gilmer, Texas even more firmly on the map?

“When you think about it, it’s really the same thing all over again for me.” Johnson says reflectively. “It may sound kind of corny, but it goes back to what we learned in Jr. High when we went through the ‘Buckeye Maker.’ Whether it’s football, or college, or life in general, it’s really all about being Positive, Respectful, Intense, and Discipline in Everything you do. It’s Buckeye P.R.I.D.E. I bought into it in the 7th grade, and it’s worked for me ever since. I’m not about to approach this opportunity any other way.”

Manuel says candidly, “Look, I know all of this is like something out of a fairy-tale. But I’ve kind of had to pinch myself every morning since 2001. I felt this way when I scored my first touchdown in Jr. High, and when I played my first game with the varsity on Friday Night. I felt this way on the first snap of the State Championship game. Then I got to OU and ran out there in front of 80,000 people…same feeling…OU / Texas Game, Conference Championships, National Championships…always the same feeling. I’m not naive. By all accounts, I’m not supposed to have gotten anywhere near this far. But when that little voice in my head says, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’ I just go back to Buckeye P.R.I.D.E. I go and ‘BALL-OUT’ and leave it all on the field, and let the chips fall where they may. I know the odds of a 7th Round Pick making an NFL Squad. But there’s some other things I know too. I know when we started two-a-days in 2004, we were picked to finish 3rd in our district. And I know I have a State Championship Ring with my name on it today. I know the summer before my Senior Year, no major schools had offered me a scholarship. Then I went to a day camp at the winningest college football program in the modern era. Today if you look at the OU Record Books at Wide Receiver position, you’ll find my name in there more than once. And now I know if you ‘Google’ ‘2009 Draft Picks of the Dallas Cowboys,’ you’ll see ‘Manuel Johnson, WR - Oklahoma from Gilmer, Texas.’ All anybody can ask for in this world is an opportunity, and I have had my fair share. But success occurs when preparation meets opportunity, and so far, I’ve been ready when my number has been called. So now, I’m here with another incredible chance of a lifetime. And I’m happy to keep being Positive, Respectful, Intense and Discipline with Every chance I get to see my name on the roster of the 2009-2010 Dallas Cowboys. I’m sure you’ll find a lot of people that will give you a lot of good reasons that won’t happen…and that’s ok. I’ll simply continue to count myself as blessed to have another chance to apply some P.R.I.D.E. to the situation, and we’ll see what happens.”

Whatever happens, one has the feeling that nobody from Gilmer, Texas will be underestimating the heart of our champion anytime soon. Boomer Sooner, Go Cowboys, and Go Manny! As always, there’s an Army of Buckeyes standing right behind you!

MANUEL JOHNSON is seen here as a stellar wide receiver for the Oklahoma Sooners, but before that (see next photo), he switched to quarterback for the Gilmer Buckeyes for his senior season in 2004. In the next photo from early December of that year, he is practicing his passing on the star at midfield of Texas Stadium a few days before Gilmer’s Class 3A Division II semifinal against Snyder. As everyone who follows the Buckeyes knows, he guided Gilmer to a 16-0 record and a state championship before it was all over.