High School Football

A special senior class has Johansen football on the brink of making the playoffs

Johansen defensive back Armando Becerra is one of the 25 Vikings seniors who will be honored before Friday’s Western Athletic Conference game against Davis (4-1, 8-1).

Senior Night is important at every school, a time to honor the players who will play their last regular season home game.

With what the 25 players accomplished during their time on the Norseman Drive campus, Friday’s game surely will be emotional and exciting.

“I am excited for the seniors but also sad because for some of them, it’s their last opportunity they will ever play organized sports under the lights,” coach Scott Sacuskie said.

Against their rival Spartans , Johansen (4-1, 6-2) is in new territory with only two weeks remaining in the regular season: They are competing for a league title.

“We’ve had four years of hard work and nobody gave up,” senior linebacker Gabriel Delarm said. “This year has been shocking but the year has gone by so fast.”

During the Class of 2020’s freshman and sophomore seasons, the Vikings won one game.

From 2012-17, Johansen won three.

With open enrollment in Modesto, nearby football players were picking Downey and other successful Modesto programs.

“I’ve known people that went here and graduated above and said, ‘Johansen is trash’ and not good and this and that,” said Becerra, who joined the football team four years ago without having played the sport before. “They said these things but yet they didn’t do anything to fix it.”

Said senior defensive back Matthew Castaneda: “I knew that someday we would come along and we had to be patient and stay together.”

Senior offensive lineman Andrew Cervantes, who also didn’t play football until high school, said he never thought of leaving. “You invest so much time in the program, why would you want to throw that away?”

In 2018, the Vikings won three games, their most since 2011 when they went 5-5.

But Cervantes said the team still had a mentality where if they would trail, they would give up. That mentality is gone, he said.

All of the players said this year’s success wouldn’t be possible without Sacuskie.

In his four years as coach and athletic director, Sacuskie has changed the program by hiring more on-campus coaches. Eight coaches work at Johansen.

“It’s the continuity of the staff,” Sacuskie said. “There is no way for a kid not to know what’s going on if he misses practice.”

Johansen is in a four-way tie for first place in the WAC; if the Vikings win their final two games, they will make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

That is causing excitement around campus.

“These seniors have created a stepping stone,” Sacuskie said. “Last week, it was really sweet to see how many people not only here but in the community voted for us to be the Fox 40 Game of the Week. We had over 28,000 votes and it’s cool to hear how many people were supporting the school.”

In 2017, when Johansen went 0-10, Sacuskie said he could hear crickets in the stands. Now the team draws big crowds.

“Freshman year, none of the students were into rallies and going to games,” Becerra said. “A lot of students are buying in now.”

A group phone chat between the varsity team has been more active this year with players discussing opponents and keeping each other accountable.

“Deep in my heart, I know it’s coming to an end,” Becerra said. “We can’t let other things (like Senior Night festivities) be a distraction and at the end of the day, we need to go out there and perform.”

This story was originally published October 24, 2019 5:00 AM.

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