MT. CARMEL, ILL. - Kevin Smith has left an indelible mark on Golden Aces football during his storied career as an assistant coach. Whether through game strategy initiatives, personnel decisions, or day to day coaching, he has seen and/or done it all.
So, it may be no surprise to learn that perhaps the biggest personnel decision made so far in 2018 is one Smith personally sought – the move of senior captain Ryan Johnson inside to defensive tackle.
“Ryan is a fantastic wrestler,” said Aces coach Michael Brewer of Johnson, one of five Mt. Carmel wrestlers to make it to the IHSA Class 1A state meet in Champaign last year. Listed as a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior, he wrestled on the mats at State Farm Arena as a 170-pounder and finished the season with a 35-8 record.
“I credit this to coach Smith,” Brewer said. "He said, ‘You know, let’s take those skills he has and move him inside where he can get his hands on people.’ (Smith) thought that would be a good fit. Boy has it been. (Johnson) has shined in that spot.”
Johnson, while admitting he wasn’t sure what to expect at first, has since learned to embrace the position change.
“It’s a different thing for me,” said Johnson, one of four captains of this year’s grid team. “I didn’t know what it was going to be like coming into it. But, once they explained it to me, I thought I could make a lot of plays from this position. So, I accepted it, and am happy with it.”
Indeed. Mt. Carmel coaches and fans are certainly grateful for the move. Johnson spent much of last Friday night in the Harrisburg backfield, in on the majority of an impressive 10 tackles for loss tacked up in the Aces 20-13 season-opening victory.
Johnson said it’s all part of a new, more aggressive look to the defense. He said ends now play “more or less like a linebacker. They’re meant to be quick and flat down the line. We’re more of a team that doesn’t wait for them to come to us. We go to them.”
How much does wrestling help him in the trenches on Friday nights? Johnson said it’s not necessarily what you would think.
“It’s not as much wrestling as it is technique,” he said. “How to work people, how to get around them, use your hands and manhandle them.”
ACES ASIDES… The Aces defense will welcome back projected nose guard starter Austin Donnals to the lineup this Friday night in the Big 8 Conference opener at Mt. Vernon, Ind. Brewer said the 5-8, 240-pound senior will get the start but will be brought along gradually.