Prep football | Manatee sophomore running back Johnnie Lang more than a backup plan

Lang keeps Manatee run game humming

jlembo@bradenton.comSeptember 26, 2013 

Manatee's Johnnie Lang runs the ball at Hawkins Stadium Friday night against Friendship Collegiate Academy. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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BRADENTON

Prior to last week's game at Sarasota, Johnnie Lang was approached by Manatee football coach Joe Kinnan.

Trevon Walters, Manatee's top running back, had a sprained ankle and was not going to play. Lang was the starter.

Kinnan told him to expect about 25 carries. Lang, a sophomore, saw Kinnan's number and raised him: He told the venerable coach he was good for 30.

"I said, 'No,'" Kinnan said, '"I think that's a little too much.'"

Perhaps the only people not too enthusiastic to see Lang take the ball on Fridays are Manatee's opponents. Heading into Friday's game against rival Southeast, Lang is third in the area in yards (466) and is averaging 11.4 yards per carry.

Neither player nor coach were correct in anticipating the number of carries Long had last week against the Sailors. He got just 11 attempts but totaled 174 yards and scored twice as the Canes, 4-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 8A, emptied the bench early during a 66-7 victory.

Walters, a Missouri-bound commit who will play Friday, is still the Hurricanes' top option out of the backfield and is fifth in the area in rushing (351 yards) despite missing last week.

But the 5-foot-9, 184-pound Lang isn't a garden-variety backup.

"He's a prime-time player. If Dick Vitale saw him, he'd call him a PTP," Kinnan said. "He reminds me a lot of (former Manatee standout) Mike Blakely, but he's a much better blocker than Mike.

"He's a sophomore, and it's a matter of time before the (Division I scholarship) offers start rolling in."

Lang made his varsity debut last October against Palmetto. But his baptism into big-time football came when Kinnan walked into the locker room one day and told him to suit up for a varsity scrimmage.

There was Lang, up against a line that included three Division I or Division I-AA recruits and a defense that helped Manatee to a No. 1 ranking in three different national polls for most of the season.

"It was kind of scary, but Trevon told me just to run the ball. There's nothing to it," Lang said. "I really didn't know him that well, because I was still on JV. But he told me to just run the ball, and I didn't need to be scared -- just run the ball. And I made the best of it."

Lang carried the ball in all four playoff games for Manatee, scoring twice during the region semifinal against Venice and once during the state semifinal against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.

He finished the season with 208 yards, averaging close to 7.2 yards on 29 attempts.

"It built me to play actual football," Lang said of last season. "If you're a freshman and you're on varsity, you have butterflies like crazy. Once you get rep by rep and you're going to the playoffs...you get more confidence knowing that the coach is going to believe in you, and it makes you feel like a better player."

Lang said Walters has helped in the transition, as well.

"It starts in the weight room with us. Let's say I put on ... a 25-pound plate. He'll tell me to take it off and put a 45-pound one on," Lang said. "I look at him like he's crazy, he looks at me like I'm crazy, so we just make the best out of it. And we get on the field, we work together. And on Fridays, it pays off."

Manatee couldn't be happier. Neither could Lang.

"I knew I had the ability to do it. I just needed the chance," he said. "Thankfully, I got it."

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