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Johnson part of winning traditions at Christian and Roncalli

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Joey Johnson takes a knee to rest on the sideline during a game against Redfield earlier this season at Dacotah Bank Stadium. Photo by John Davis taken 9/1/2023

Joey Johnson knows what it takes to be successful.

The Aberdeen Christian senior is taking on a new role this year of being a leader for the Aberdeen Roncalli football team, something Johnson has had to learn to embrace this season.

“Last year when you have 11 seniors, you don’t really have as much of a role, but we’ve got a lot of younger guys, so someone’s got to step up, try to be vocal, teach people how to get better, do their job, so when I graduate, they can carry on the tradition of winning,” Johnson said.

Johnson has seen what the tradition of winning looks like during his high school career. He was a part of last season’s Roncalli football team that finished the regular season undefeated before eventually losing to Hot Springs in the Class 11B quarterfinals. Johnson was also a member of the Aberdeen Christian boys’ basketball teams that have made state tournament appearances the past three seasons.

This year, the Knights and Cavaliers lost several experienced players to graduation, and Johnson says he has learned many lessons from past teammates that will help him during his senior season of athletics.

“They were always great leaders. They always had high basketball IQ’s. I think I’ve always learned the most that I could have learned about basketball playing with them. It was almost like we were always on the same page,” Johnson said. “So now I’m trying to bring that fluidity to our team, making sure that we’re always on the same page.”

Johnson says he tries to lead his teammates in multiple ways, but usually tends to lead in one way over others.

“I say probably more vocal,” Johnson said. “I try to lead by example, but I also try to talk to my teammates.”

Johnson has also learned about leadership through his father, Rodney, who is the pastor of New Life Fellowship church in Aberdeen. Rodney grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., playing his prep basketball career at Bakersfield Christian High School. Eventually the elder Johnson moved to Ellendale, N.D., where he attended Trinity Bible College, while also meeting his wife in college. Joey says his close relationship to his father includes a common interest in high school sports.

“I’m very close with my dad. I’ve talked to him a lot about sports,” Johnson said. “He’s always been very supportive of me, definitely always been there for me. Maybe I didn’t get the playing time I wanted or didn’t have the game (I wanted), but he’s always been supportive of me.”

Aberdeen Christian’s Joey Johnson, center, goes up with a shot attempt as Ethan’s Wyatt Sinkle, right, defends and Drake Gustafson, far left, looks on during the opening round game at the South Dakota Class B Boys Basketball Tournament last season at Wachs Arena. Photo by John Davis taken 3/16/2023

Along with basketball and football, Johnson has also participated in track and field, and golf during his high school career, although he says football is his favorite sport.

“It’s probably a tossup between football and basketball. I think football’s probably my better sport,” Johnson said. “Definitely easier for me to do. I’m not very agile, so football’s probably better.”

While Johnson enjoys football, he says his favorite part about playing with Roncalli is building friendships with players from a different school.

“I’m definitely close with some people at (Aberdeen Christian), but I’d say some of my closest friends as well have been at Roncalli,” Johnson said. “Some of the best relationships I’ve been able to build are with my coaches and staff. I love the coaches there.”

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Joey Johnson, center, gets past the block of Redfield’s Tyler Roberts, left, to close in on the Pheasants’ quarterback Chase McGillivary, right, during a game earlier this season at Dacotah Bank Stadium. Photo by John Davis taken 9/1/2023

The Cavaliers are 4-1 on the season and are currently in the midst of their bye week preparing for next week’s road game against St. Thomas More on Saturday, Sept. 30. Johnson is confident that the team will be able to get ready for a playoff push in the coming weeks.

“We definitely think that even though we lost a lot of people, we’re still a championship quality team and definitely a playoff-caliber team,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping that we can just get our offense and defense crisp, and hopefully make a push here coming up.”

While he is only a few weeks into his senior year, Johnson knows that his time at Aberdeen Christian will soon be coming to an end when he graduates next spring. Johnson says he enjoys the friendships he has made at the school, which will make graduation bittersweet when that day comes.

“When you’re in a smaller environment like this, you’re able to get really close with a lot of people,” Johnson said. “Even coming into this year, it was a little bit tough losing those seniors. (I was) really close with a lot of those guys, but definitely going to miss the friendships that I have here.”

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