SYRACUSE — Wawasee football has had a difficult season. Sure, the Warriors have shown steady and significant improvement, but with just one week to go in the regular season, they have yet to break into the win column.
Still, there have been bright spots. Possibly the very brightest of these has been senior kicker Brayden Johnson.
When drives have stalled, Johnson has given the Warriors an extra option, demonstrating some impressive range with a 40-yard field goal in the “W” game with Warsaw back on Sept. 28. He’s been money in the bank on extra-point attempts, his kick-offs are pretty much invariably touchbacks, and his steady punting game has helped take some pressure off the team’s defense.
The senior with the big boot and impressive work ethic is pretty happy with his performance, and deservedly so, but he’s still not totally satisfied.
“Leading up to my senior year, I worked out all winter and all spring, and that’s really helped me. Don’t get me wrong, you can always improve your game, but I’m happy with how far I’ve come,” he said.
And Johnson has come a long way.
Diagnosed with a hearing disability at only five months old, Johnson has worn hearing aids pretty much his entire life. His father James Albertson, an avid football fan, died he he was just five years old and is one of Johnson’s inspirations for taking up the sport. His disability caused some initial difficulties with equilibrium on the field, but he’s adapted to become one of the best kickers in the state.
“When I began to kick a long time ago before my freshman year I would get off balance a lot of times,” he recalled. “But from me doing it a long time and a lot, I’ve gotten used to it, and I know what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Initially starting his high school career as both a quarterback and a kicker, Johnson gutted out stress fractures in his L4 and L5 vertebrae through most of his freshman year, only discovering the severity of his injuries in the spring season. But the tough-minded young man says he never really worried that he would get back on the field, and after a six-month stint in rehab, he returned to football midway through his sophomore season.
“I played through it my whole freshman year, and at the end of my freshman year during baseball season I had to get it checked out. I was in a lot of pain, and it ended up being a stress fracture,” he recalled.
“It took me out for about a good half a year. I wasn’t scared at all. I knew I was going to get through it. A little bump in the road.”
It was at that time that Johnson made a conscious decision to forego the quarterback position and focus exclusively on his role with Wawasee’s special teams, which he figured would give him the best chance at the next level. Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Johnson doubled down on his efforts at kicker, working through the offseason to get stronger. And that extra effort has paid dividends for Johnson and the Warriors — through seven weeks of the 2018 season, his punting was ranked second in the state and 11th in the entire nation, according to MaxPreps. Currently, he has 36 punts for 1,510 yards and a 41.9-yard punt average. His belief that his kicking game could propel him to the next level wasn’t wrong, either, as he was recently offered a preferred walk-on spot at Division I Louisville ahead of a scheduled trip to the campus on Oct. 27.
“Brayden has been a driven young man in the time I have known him. He is certainly dedicated to his kraft of being a kicker and has worked extremely hard to improve his ability in hopes of playing football at the next level,” said Wawasee head coach Mike Eshbach. “Currently, there have been some doors open, and he is going to have plenty of options as we get closer to signing day.”
Johnson says he hasn’t thought a whole lot about his personal goals for the remainder of his final year of high school football. He’s really only thinking about giving his team the best opportunity each and every time he takes the field. The Warriors have one more chance at a regular-season win when they play host to Goshen on Friday night before opening Sectional 19 play opposite Northridge Oct. 19.
Sure, Johnson isn’t not done working yet, but approaching the home stretch of his high school career, he’s also pleased with how far his game has come.
“I’m feeling good right now,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to improve in my kicking game, but I’m definitely happy with how far I’ve come.”