Not many passes are going to be thrown to the left side against Platte Valley this year.
Kaleb Johnson has that side locked down.
“He’s a ballhawk is what he is,” Platte Valley coach Troy Hoffman said. “You hear it all the time, but he can be a shutdown corner on one side of the field.
“He isolates one half of the field and makes it a little easier for me when I’m making calls.”
Johnson was second in the state last season with nine interceptions — two for touchdowns — and 46 solo tackles.
“It honestly comes in the flow of the game,” Johnson said. “It’s almost like you can see it coming. You can always tell off the receiver’s hips and all that. In the moment, you see the ball and you either have it or you don’t. I always take the opportunity to have it.”
And, he’s yet another example of the benefits of playing multiple sports.
“Playing multiple sports keeps me busy,” Johnson said. “It keeps me in shape, it gets me right for the next season. I stay in shape, I get stronger and faster. All those things improve my skills at football.”
Johnson also runs track and wrestles at Platte Valley. He took third in the 4×200 meter relay, separated by less than one second from the win.
“The one thing that you hear is that a lot of these colleges are looking for the multi-sport kid. They’re looking for a well-rounded person,” Hoffman said. “From a coaching standpoint, what you do is you learn how to be coached when you have multiple sports that you are learning from. Kaleb has athletic ability that he can participate and do very well in three different sports.”
His experience with wrestling helps him with tackling larger receivers looking to truck him over.
“I know how to attack the hips and bring them down from wrestling,” Johnson said. “I feel that I have a really good balance when it comes to juking or any types of spin moves. As a player, I’m the small but mighty one on the team.”
At five-foot-eight and 150 pounds, Johnson is hardly the biggest player on the field.
“I think he gets overlooked and a lot of our opponents try to pick on him just because of his size,” Hoffman said. “What he does is he shows up and he actually can demonstrate — because of his speed and his great technique — that they can’t pick on him. He really solidified one side of the field for us last year.”
He makes up for his size with technique and instinct.
“(Johnson) is probably the best technique tackler that I have on my team,” Hoffman said. “He solidifies the corner on sweeps, he can go up and make a one-on-one tackle in the open field when teams run a swing pass or do any quick outs. He is rock solid and very dependable.”
That track speed is what sets Johnson apart to his coach.
“His speed and his mentality for football are the two things that elevate him,” Hoffman said. “He’s fast without pads, but when you get pads on him, he’s football fast as well. If I have to, there’s no doubt that I could use him in the return game on both sides — either punts or kickoff returns.”
Johnson’s teammates take notice of his success despite his size. He’s inspired them, giving smaller underclassmen hope that they could still play at the level that Johnson plays at.
“Because of what he does and how he works, the other kids see it,” Hoffman said. “I use Kaleb as an example all the time that it’s not necessarily the height and weight that create a football player. He’s football. He’s football all around.
“When you put pads on him, that kid can play anywhere.”
And Hoffman hasn’t ruled out Johnson playing anywhere. Johnson was at wing back last year and will be utilized there again, in addition to being moved around to cover a team’s number-one receiver.
“We put our best eleven out there, so Kaleb is going to be relied on a lot to help as a wingback on offense as well,” Hoffman said. “He’s got great hands and he’s proven to us this summer that he’s a great route runner. He’s going to help us there a lot, probably a lot more than our opponents are expecting.”
It allows Hoffman to get creative with play calling and different coverages for Johnson.
“Being able to do certain things on half of the field allowed us to switch coverages. He can play deep, he can play short, he can also play man because he’s so fast,” Hoffman said. “We’re going to adjust some of our coverages to probably work a little more individual coverage. I also don’t have any problem with flipping him and moving him to the other side of the field if we have a receiver that we’re going up against that’s having one of those days.
“He’s really good for high school, but what I want him to take it to the next level so all those technique things he thinks about become reactive for him so that he can be that go-to guy.”
Johnson may not be that go-to guy that Hoffman wants him to develop into quite yet, but he’s growing and developing as a player.
“His biggest growth last year was the ability to play in between our zone coverage,” Hoffman said. “He could play off of a kid, but because of his instincts and his quickness, he was able to get in and cause some pass deflections. Really, what he has developed is the ability to have that football instinct.”
Johnson pointed to a bond that he shares with his teammates on his side of the defense in explaining his ability.
“Me, my safety and my rover on my side, we’re really close,” Johnson said. “We have a great lockdown defense on our left side.
“I’m expecting our entire defense to be breaking records.”