Lowndes Academy has memorable season for good and bad reasons
By Tim Gayle
The 2016 season was already considered a special one for Lowndes Academy as the school celebrated its 50th season of football.
Little did the coaches and players know in early August that 2016 would be a memorable season none of the participants would ever forget.
It started with the cancelation of the first game after an automobile wreck nearly claimed the life of one of its players. It ended with a team’s inspiring trip to the semifinals of the state playoffs despite a season full of obstacles.
“It was a really tough season, I’d say, with all the injuries and the car wreck,” said junior quarterback Jon Johnson. “But we all grew together as a family and ended up with a really good season.”
Johnson was honored by the Montgomery Quarterback Club for his performance in the state playoffs, but it could have just as easily been recognition for his performance during the season.
The junior from west Montgomery accounted for 27 touchdowns rushing and passing, had 46 tackles and three interceptions as a defensive back, had a 33-yard average as a punter and accounted for approximately 2,500 all-purpose yards once you factored in his yardage as a kickoff and punt return specialist.
All of that came despite the devastation of almost losing his brother Trevor in a preseason car wreck. Jon’s passion for football was severely tested in late August and early September as his brother lay fighting for his life in a Birmingham hospital.
“It was really hard on me,” Johnson said. “Not being home on the weekends took away from being with all the kids at school, because we used to get together to watch film. It was really tough on me because I didn’t know how my brother was doing but I knew God had him and I just tried to get our season on track.”
The day after the auto accident, Lowndes’ season opener with Macon East Academy was canceled. Prayers and financial contributions throughout the Alabama Independent School Association flowed in as news of Trevor’s injuries spread.
“It was a blessing that the AISA was like that,” Johnson said.
“My wife and I were going up there every week, either on Saturday or Sunday to check with Trev when he was up there,” Taylor said. “I have to give (assistant coaches) Cliff Cobb, Matt Marshall and Shane Moye credit. They did a tremendous job of holding everything together and just being there for all of us. And coach (Darrell) Self (Lowndes headmaster) was wonderful. It worked as well that we had somebody with his experience sitting in the position that he’s in.”
The next week, the Rebels would be tested again, losing a game at Chambers as three players were carried off the field with season-ending knee injuries. Lowndes would close out their season with a 4-1 run, losing a fourth player to a knee injury and a fifth to a broken elbow.
“To be honest, we just worked hard and kept going out to practice knowing we had to reach our goal, which was to make the playoffs,” Johnson said. “We didn’t get as far as we wanted to, but we know we had a pretty good season and we’re proud of that.”
His brother’s accident, as bad as it was, seemed to be a catalyst. What could have destroyed a team seemed to give it more fuel.
“I’d say so,” Johnson said, “because with all that, you have to come together. Without all your friends, if I didn’t have them all to lean on, there’s no telling what I would have done. I might have dropped out of school or quit football but knowing they had my back helped me through the season.”
Lowndes (8-3) reached the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and won a playoff game for the first time since 2008, beating Patrician 36-8 in the opening round of the A playoffs. The Rebels had never beaten Patrician in eight previous meetings.
“He just wanted us all to do well,” Johnson said. “Him not being out there really hurt him. He just really wanted to get out there on the field with us because that’s what he grew up doing. Me and him, every year, we’ve always played together.”
Trevor Johnson will never get the opportunity to play football again, but his brother said he hopes the two can be teammates on the Rebels’ baseball team. Trevor’s spinal injuries have left him with nerve damage that renders his right arm useless and some episodes of double vision, but Jon continues to hold out hope his younger brother will make a full recovery.
For Taylor, it ranks as the most memorable season of his coaching career. On a team that already faced some long odds with just four seniors, the five season-ending injuries left him playing three freshmen on the offensive line at one point. If that sounds desperate, consider the fact that those freshmen were part of a junior high team that went 7-1 this season and the future looks bright for the Rebels.
They lose talented running back Brandon Reid along with Jimbo Wheeler, Zach Till and Taylor’s son John — along with Trevor Johnson as well – but the 2016 season taught the players, and their coach, a lot about overcoming obstacles.
“We never played a game or a scrimmage with all of our players,” Taylor said. “We had four out for our opening scrimmage (with Clarke Prep), then we had the wreck with Trevor. Then we had three ACLs (season ending knee injuries) in one night at Chambers. We had five surgeries this year. But our kids just persevered through all of it and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“On top of all that, my son’s a senior so to add that with this type of season, these types of kids, what they had to overcome and to see how much they grew not just as football players but as people, it’s just remarkable. And that’s something I’ll take from now on. They’ll probably be one of my favorite teams just from that standpoint.”