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Kerry Collins, Published November 19 2009

Minnesota high school football playoffs: 1-man 9-man crew, Ada-Borup’s Johnson tries all spots he’s asked to play

Yuri Johnson isn’t driving the Ada-Borup football team’s bus down to the Metrodome for this weekend’s Prep Bowl.

It’s about the only thing he hasn’t done for the Cougars this season.

Ada-Borup takes on Nicollet at 8 a.m. on Saturday in the state 9-man semifinals in Minneapolis, and Johnson is one of the main reasons it’s there.

“He knows where to be and what to do, and that goes for any position on the field,” Cougars coach Nathan Brager said. “He knows all the routes and all of the concepts. His sports intelligence is really over the top.”

In the last two seasons, the 6-foot, 190-pound Johnson has played safety, linebacker, running back, quarterback, tight end and wide receiver. He’s also the team’s long-snapper, and took over kickoff duties in a game this season.

“It’s kind of fun to switch things up, and I don’t mind it,” Johnson said. “You play running back all game, and you can get pretty tired. Running a few routes out there is fun, too.”

The senior hasn’t punted or played on the offensive or defensive lines (yet), but he’s done everything else – and all of it has come despite missing three games with a shoulder injury.

“We were still able to win those games, but we’re totally different when he’s not on the field,” Brager said. “We’ve got a number of players we can go to on offense, but we really need him.

“When he goes out, it takes five guys to fill the spots of what he does for us.”

Johnson transferred from Ulen-Hitterdal to Ada-Borup going into last year after moving in with his father in Borup.

But the athletic surroundings weren’t strange for him at all.

“We lived over there until I was a fifth-grader, and then my parents moved to Ulen, so I had played with all of these guys when we were kids,” Johnson said. “It was kind of like a reunion.”

This is Johnson’s third trip to the state tournament.

He was with Ada-Borup last year when the Cougars lost to eventual state champ Houston in the semfinals.

As a freshman, he was part of a Ulen-Hitterdal team that lost 29-22 in the quarterfinals to eventual state champ Stephen-Argyle.

“He’s been starting for four years,” said Brager, who was the head coach at U-H when Johnson was a sophomore. “That goes a long way in telling him where he has to be on every play. He just knows his football.”

Because of the shoulder injury, Johnson has just 472 rushing yards and 215 receiving yards, but he has a total of 12 touchdowns.

After starting the season at running back, Brager put him at wide receiver for a few games to ease him back in following the injury.

“I felt sorry for the rest of the defensive backs in the conference,” Brager said with a laugh. “As a blocker out there, he pancaked or just bowled over every one he saw.”

The Cougars took their time in bringing him back, and Johnson understood the mentality – Ada-Borup had bigger sights in mind with the playoffs.

Now A-B is one of only four 9-man teams left playing, and Johnson said the sky is the limit.

“It was tough sitting on the sideline because you want to help your team win, but they kept telling me that what counts is the playoffs,” Johnson said. “It’s all about the team first. I didn’t need to be out there then.

“This is the time of year when it really counts. This is what we’ve been waiting for.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548