INDOOR FOOTBALL: Axemen's Johnson stands out in an offensive game
BEMIDJI -- Even though the Indoor Football League is dominated by offensive numbers and statistics, it does not take long for a spectator to notice Bemidji Axemen linebacker Jory Johnson and his contribution on the other side of the ball.
In eight games with the Axemen, Johnson leads the team with 32.5 tackles and 7.5 tackles for a loss, and his 4.5 sacks and two interceptions -- one returned for a 30-yard touchdown -- also rank near the top of Bemidji's defensive charts.
"Jory has really established himself as one of the leaders of our defense," said Axemen coach Robert Fuller said. "As he has gotten familiar with the indoor game, he has made a greater impact on our defense."
Fuller and his staff are happy to see Johnson take on a leadership role for the inexperienced defense.
"We have a lot of guys, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that have no IFL experience," Johnson, who also is an IFL rookie, said. "Being a linebacker, you always have to take control of the defense. It requires so much versatility that I feel like linebackers are natural leaders. I just try to lead with my actions by helping all areas of the defense."
"He comes from a strong program at UConn," Fuller added of the rookie's leadership ability. "He was a multi-year captain and has played in some really big games. His even-keeled demeanor has helped him settle in as a rookie."
Although Johnson is listed as a linebacker, he spends much of his time lined up on the defensive line and, on some plays, he looks as if he is playing safety when he drops back into coverage.
"The indoor game is a little different, so I just want to help in any way that I can," Johnson said of his versatility. "I've been blessed with the ability, so I just want to help the team.
"The speed of the game is very different," Johnson added. "That, along with the smaller field and fewer players, made coverages a difficult adjustment."
Johnson's ability to be all over the field is nothing new. He recorded 192 tackles in his final two years at Connecticut, while recovering three fumbles, forcing two more and intercepting a pass.
Johnson's impressive numbers for the Huskies were not quite enough to make the NFL. He said he there was about a 50-50 chance he would be drafted in the seventh round or signed as an undrafted free agent, but neither happened.
Fortunately, he knew playing football might not last forever, so he earned a spot on the Big East All-Academic team during his sophomore and junior seasons and finished his degree in economics.
"Outside of football, the things I have always really wanted to do include working for a professional sports franchise, owning a video game store, or owning a sporting goods store," Johnson said. "Hopefully one of those three work out if football doesn't work out."
If the IFL is a place to make a name for yourself, Johnson has certainly done his part to stand out, but his off-the-field characteristics have also drawn attention from his teammates and coaches.
"He is a very bright young man," Fuller said. "He is so much fun to be around. He represents this football team very well and does more than his part in the community."