Prep football | Rising junior Johnnie Lang taking charge of Manatee Hurricanes offense

jlembo@bradenton.comMay 23, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Johnnie Lang wants to be the man.

And it's not just because he wants to pile up touchdowns and yards and sweeten his stock for gazing college recruiters.

Manatee's rising junior running back sees a need in the Hurricanes' locker room, and he wants to be the one to help fill it.

"I'm trying to maintain and keep my team together and try to become a captain this year," Lang said following Tuesday's practice. "I'm just trying to step up and be an example for the younger guys we've got coming in and show them what Manatee football is all about and what we're trying to do here."

Lang and wide receiver Kelvin McKnight are the lone experienced holdovers from an offense set to lose its entire line as well as talented skill players Trevon Walters, Brodrick Yancy and Marquel Hines to graduation.

The unit also will be without quarterback Josh Meyer, who is suspended from school after being charged with lewd and lascivious battery in April.

It's a huge opportunity for Lang, who rushed for 781 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while serving as Walters' backup and should get plenty of carries for a new-look Hurricanes team that hosts Haines City at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Lang, however, sees it as a chance to contribute off the field, too. He spent the last couple of seasons watching older players take charge in the locker room, and now it's his turn.

"I just try to step it up and show my guys, even though you're young, now you're in high school. This is grown man's football," he said. "I just try to step up and show them that."

Lang found a mentor in Walters, who rushed for 1,704 yards last season and signed to play football at Missouri. The two running backs would throw challenges at each other in the locker room, engaging in a constant game of one-upmanship that translated into success on the field.

It was a friendly rivalry, Lang said, that made each player better. And he plans on passing it on to the guys now playing behind him.

"We would try and match each other with touchdowns -- 'If you break out for a touchdown, I've got to do the same thing on my series when I come in,'" Lang said. "It was fun, but at the same time, our stats kept getting higher and higher. ... I liked that, and that's what I'm trying to do with the backs here."

With Meyer out, Lang will be taking handoffs from his cousin, Kavious Price. Price is a rising junior who rushed for 77 yards in limited duty last season but flashed some speed earlier this spring by taking eighth in the 100-meter dash during the Class 4A state track meet.

"He knows he's going to carry a heavier load," said Chris Conboy, Manatee's quarterbacks coach who is coaching the offense this spring while head coach Joe Kinnan is out on medical leave, of Long. "Kavious will probably run even more than Josh did, so it won't just be (Lang); it will be other guys. And we'll figure out ways to get the ball to Kelvin."

Despite the absence of Meyer and Kinnan, the latter of whom said he was "hopeful" to be back for the summer and fall, Lang said spring practice has gone off without a hitch. Longtime defense coordinator Jim Phelan has led the team this spring.

Consequently, Lang said the Hurricanes' goal of winning a state championship hasn't dimmed.

And Lang said he plans on being a driving force toward seeing that goal to its completion.

"I want to be the person that brings everyone together and lead the team. I've always been like that; that's how my mom raised me," he said. "I'm just trying to be the leader of everything right now because I feel like it's my team. And I should take control of my team."

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