EMORY, Va. – North Carolina Wesleyan linebacker Antonio Johnson spent this week monitoring the approach of Hurricane Dorian on his hometown of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Saturday afternoon, the 6-foot-1, 212-pound senior exorcized his anxiety in the mountains of far Southwest Virginia before an engaged crowd of 4,216.
So what sort of impact did Dorian have on Johnson’s hometown?
“A tornado went through it,” he said.
The Johnson family was able to evacuate earlier in the week and the tornado bypassed their home.
“My family is good, but it was a scary time,” Johnson said. “We live about 15 minutes from the water and I was watching the hurricane coverage all week.”
Classes were cancelled on Thursday and Friday at the North Carolina Wesleyan campus in Rocky Mount while the Battling Bishops were not able to practice after Wednesday.
“I’m pleased with how the administration handled the situation by allowing us to play this game,” said fifth-year Wesleyan head coach Jeff Filkovski said. “They hunkered us down Thursday and allowed us to travel Friday.”
Filkovski said that a storm passed through the Wesleyan campus in quick fashion Thursday without causing major damage.
“We’ve got a lot of guys from the East Coast and from the parts of North Carolina that were hit by the hurricane,” Filkovski said. “Our prayers go to everybody that got hit by the weather harder than us. It was a troublesome week, and I’m proud of how our guys reacted to the adversity.”
The Wesleyan coach was especially proud of the durable Johnson who collected a game-high 13 tackles while adding a sack and making the game-winning interception in the end zone.
After suffering a severe ankle injury in his senior year of high school, Johnson came to Wesleyan as a tailback. One of those second-chance success stories that are common at the NCAA Division 3 level that developed.
“We needed help on defense and Antonio was willing to move to linebacker as a sophomore,” Filkovski said. “I have no doubt that if Antonio was still at tailback he would have started today. He’s that good of an athlete.”
Filkovski is also a pretty smart guy. The former quarterbacks coach at the University of Cincinnati and offensive coordinator of the NFL Europe Cologne Centurions was able to isolate E&H defenders in several instances with clever play calls and hustle from his first-year quarterback Donielle Totten.
Meanwhile, Johnson terrorized an E&H offense that features a line with average weight of around 300 pounds.
“We studied film to see what Emory did best,” said Johnson, the 2018 USA South Defensive player of the year. “We wanted to make them throw the ball.”
Johnson was ready when the Wasps attempted a pass over the middle in overtime.
“I read the play, but I got hit before I was able to come down with the ball,” Johnson said.
Somehow, Johnson gathered up the ball while falling to the ground.
“It was a long week, but this was an awesome win,” he said.