By Robert Wilson
After a one-point loss at Gulfport in the season opener, Pearl coach Justin Hunter decided to put the ball into his best playmaker’s hands as much as possible, so he moved Jerry “J-Bird” Johnson Jr. to quarterback.
The results have been tremendous, especially last Friday night.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior accounted for 313 yards and four touchdowns to lead Pearl to a 47-21 victory over Biloxi for its third consecutive victory in a non-region, Class 6A game at Pearl.
Biloxi didn’t kick the ball to Johnson so he didn’t get any return yardage, but Hunter inserted Johnson as an extra defensive back late in the first half. The result? Johnson made an interception on his first play in to stop the Biloxi drive.
For his outstanding performance, Johnson has been named the The Junction Deli/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player of the Week.
Johnson completed 8 of 13 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns and ran 10 times for 133 yards and one TD. Johnson completed TD passes to Cody Armes, Jaquavian Shoto and Noah Sims.
Johnson led Pearl to a 47-7 lead before coming out of the game early in the fourth quarter.
“Jerry has gotten better week by week,” Hunter said. “Experience is really helping him at the quarterback position. He has been a dude over the last couple of weeks.”
Johnson has completed 30 of 50 passes (60 percent) for 514 yards and six TDs with only one interception and ran 37 times for 387 yards (10.4 yards per carry) and five TDs.
It all started after the first week.
“Basically, we kind of let him be freer with the ball during the game,” Hunter said. “We simplified a lot of things for him. I explained to him that we put him at quarterback to begin with so he could touch the ball every play. So we needed him to be the dude we knew he could be. He has been great. We still need him to keep improving, but he is on the right track right now and guys around him are playing great, too. He has had fun and not worried about the pressure on him.”
Johnson was named to the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite Eleven Team after a superb junior season. He has played wide receiver, running back, quarterback, cornerback and safety and returned kickoffs and punts during his career at Pearl. He caught 49 passes for 379 yards and two TDs, ran 52 times for 340 yards and three TDs and completed 7 of 8 passes for 197 yards and four TDs and interception four passes as a junior. Johnson won the Class 6A state long jump last spring as a junior, runs on the relays and plays on Pearl’s basketball team. He was the all-purpose player on the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson second team last season.
Johnson is rated No. 22 best player in Mississippi and No. 53 best in the athlete position in the country by 247 Sports.
“Jerry is an electric athlete,” Hunter said. “He is special with the ball in his hands. He can play any skill position on the field.”
Hunter said Louisiana Tech, Louisiana Lafayette and Utah State have shown the most interest in Johnson.
Pearl visits Petal, 4-1, Friday night in the Class 6A, Region 3 opener for both teams.
Mississippi Scoreboard selects a football player from Hinds, Madison, or Rankin counties each week. Coaches can nominate a player by text or call to Robert Wilson at 601.506.2276 or email [email protected].