Days after capping one of the best rushing seasons in Manatee County history, Johnnie Lang received a scholarship offer from college football's reigning national champion.
But Manatee's junior running back was in no mood to gloat. He was too busy watching film and wondering why the Hurricanes' season stopped short of the Florida Citrus Bowl, home of the state championship games.
"I was still focused on why we didn't get to state," Lang said. "The offer was nice, but I was still stuck on why we didn't get to state."
He was even critiquing his own game with the help of Palmetto grad Josh Hicks, Lang's cousin who just wrapped his freshman season at Rutgers.
"There's always room for improvement," Lang said.
A better Lang than the one Canes' fans saw in 2014? That's a scary thought for the 10 defensive coordinators who will be charged with stopping Lang next fall when he tries to better the second-best rushing season in Manatee Hurricanes history and become the county's all-time leading running back.
Lang finished with 2,116 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns, scored three touchdowns or more in six games and totaled at least 200 yards rushing three times.
Consequently, he is the Herald All-Area Offensive Player of the Year.
"Everything that kid is about is winning," Manatee coach John Booth said. "He's a great kid and has a tremendous work ethic."
Prior to this fall, the only Manatee player to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season was Shevin Wiggins, who totaled 2,267 to win the state's Mr. Football award in 1993. Lang didn't seem like a logical choice to join him after Week 1, when he ran for just 20 yards behind Manatee's brand new offensive line in a loss to Ware County, Ga.
But after consulting Hicks and members of Manatee's coaching staff -- and watching films of his freshman and sophomore seasons, when he showed flashes of brilliance backing up Trevon Walters, now at Missouri -- Lang started to develop more trust in his speed.
That adjustment, coupled with working with
strength coach Rich Lansky and offseason runs with former Manatee assistant Tracy Sanders, turned Lang into a tireless back who carried Manatee as it went through some early instability at quarterback.
Following the Ware County loss, Lang strung together seven games in which he ran for at least 177 yards. The streak was snapped during a Halloween win against Palm Harbor University, when a running clock after halftime limited Lang to 15 carries.
"My hunger -- I wasn't ready to go home early," said Lang, who finished third in the balloting for Class 8A Player of the Year. "I just forgot all about being tired."
Thanks mostly to Lang, Manatee didn't go home until mid-December, when the Hurricanes lost in the state semifinals to Apopka, the eventual champion in Class 8A. Lang put together his finest performance in a Region 2 semifinal against Vero Beach, scoring five touchdowns and rushing for 208 yards.
"I'm excited for the offseason and his future," Booth said. "If I know Johnnie like I think I do, this past year will give him the motivation to try and eclipse it next season. ... It gives you a lot of confidence going into the offseason and spring and summer knowing you'll have your key guy back."
After receiving an offer over the summer from Kentucky, Lang has since picked up offers from Arizona, Temple and Florida State, the latter of which is two wins away from a second consecutive national championship and undefeated season.
Lang, however, would rather talk shop with Hicks than pat himself on the back.
"We've been putting some stuff together and going over my mistakes," Lang said. "He's always telling me I'm a better running back than him. We keep in contact, and I listen to what he tells me and I just take it and run. That's why you watch film."
Next season has the potential to be special for Lang and the Hurricanes, especially because four of five offensive linemen are expected to be back, and Lang needs 1,347 yards to bypass Wiggins' all-time county rushing record of 4,451.
Lang, however, has a simple mission: He doesn't want to spend another December wondering why Manatee didn't reach the state final.
"Everything else is secondary," he said. "I just want to have a championship ring on my finger."