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Senior Nate Johnson was a leader on the special teams unit for the Valley Regional-Old Lyme football team this year. Nate earned Valley’s Coach’s Award for helping develop a culture where everyone always gave a maximum effort. (Photo courtesy of Nate Johnson )
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Nate Johnson finished up his final year as a member of the Valley Regional-Old Lyme football squad by earning quite an honor this fall. Nate mainly played on the special teams unit, where he brought all of his energy to bear for the Warriors. The senior also saw time as an outside linebacker. Nate’s constant presence in the weight room, on the practice field, and at the film sessions resulted in him winning the team’s Coach’s Award for the 2018 season.
Looking back on his time with the Warriors, Nate feels proud about the culture that he and his senior classmates created when it came to preparation. Nate says there was an ever-present desire to put Valley-Old Lyme in the best position to win.
“We’ve worked very hard over the past four years. We’ve been dedicated during the offseason in lifting weights, working in passing leagues, and Saturday morning practices,” Nate says. “The commitment we’ve shown is something I’ll always be proud of. That and the bond I’ve made with my teammates are probably what I take the most pride in.”
Nate’s primary role for the Warriors was on their special teams unit. Nate wanted everyone to make the biggest impact possible during kickoffs and punts. He often riled up his teammates to try and break a big play.
“I consider myself a leader on the special teams units. I tried to be the hype man and get us to make the big special team plays. I’m an emotional person, and I play passionately,” says Nate. “Our coaches always said special teams is a third of the game, and I try to do my best to help with that third. When I’m on the football field, I just feel so happy, and I use that to try to get everyone else amped up and ready to play.”
A major part of playing special teams is opening holes for the return man to gain big yardage and put the offense in good shape. Blocking may not be the most glamorous job on the gridiron, but Nate takes pride in it. He says that effort is the most important component of being an effective blocker.
“I always like watching my teammates score on a return. It made me feel like I did my job,” he says. “When blocking, I just go 110 percent, honestly. If you play as hard as you can, you end up making the play most of the time.”
Nate also suited up at outside linebacker for Valley Regional’s defense this season. Nate used to play in the secondary, but he built up his strength throughout his career, and then slid into the linebacker position.
“Usually at linebacker, I would be in for pass coverage,” says Nate, who lives in Chester. “My first three years I was a cornerback, but because I got bigger, [defensive coordinator Bobby Sanchez] wanted me to move to linebacker.”
Head Coach Tim King appreciates the dedication and intensity that Nate brought to the Warriors. King believes that Nate is the type of player that any successful team needs in order to set the standard for how people should take care of business.
“Nate was a contributor on special teams, and he’s one of the most dedicated kids that we have. He’s an awesome, hard-working young man, and I cannot remember him missing a single workout or practice in the four years I’ve known him,” King says. “He plays hard on every single play. He’s the kind of player you want on your team. He was there every single day with energy. His face would be above the definition of team player in the dictionary.”
Nate demonstrated his team-first mentality as a senior leader this year. Nate and his fellow seniors motivated the Warriors’ underclassmen to continue improving by hitting the weight room throughout the offseason.
“I try to lead by example and show the younger kids how do it the right way. You have to put in work during the offseason. You have to be driven and motivated,” says Nate. “The people that really love the game and contribute, they’re the ones that show up, and they’re the ones that are going to play. They have to want it for themselves. I feel like our grade set a good example for the upcoming kids.”
Nate is getting ready to play lacrosse at Valley Regional this spring. He’d also like to play football in college and is exploring that possibility through schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. Nate feels thankful for everyone at Valley Regional who’s impacted his life, including the Warriors’ coaching staff, and his teammates, teachers, and classmates. Nate thanks all of them, along with his family, for their support.
“My family, teachers, and coaches have been so supportive. I’ve been grateful to have them throughout my life. My coaches have taught me more than just football. They’ve taught me life lessons through football that I’ll always carry with me,” says Nate. “I also want to thank my senior teammates. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Being able to play high school football will always have a special place in my heart.”
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