By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
GREEN VALLEY —
Many coaches can attest to Tahj Sho-Johnson’s speed and talent on the football field. Many Princetonians can testify to his character. Many statistics could try to quantify his individual accomplishments as a Princeton Tiger.
But perhaps Rick Taylor summed up the 2013 Pocahontas Coal Association-Bluefield Daily Telegraph Football Player of the Year Tuesday night with his closing comment at the annual banquet.
“What a champ,” said Taylor, the coal association president and master of ceremonies.
Sho-Johnson, a 5-foot-7 senior, took the top award — the first one for a Princeton Senior High player — at the 13th yearly award ceremony.
“It was just a blessing for me to win it, so I thank God for everything,” he said after the event. “We’ve got a lot of great talent in the room, a lot of people who are really good. I was happy (that) I won it because I worked hard in the weight room, put in the work, every single day.”
So did his teammates, he said. “They opened a wide hole for me, my teammates, and it was really great throughout the season,” he said. “Nobody would miss (off-season) weight-lifting. Everybody was at weight-lifting, every day, putting in work.”
Sho-Johnson led Princeton to a 6-4 record, narrowly missing out on a Class AAA playoff berth. On offense, he ran for 1,274 yards on 119 carries for a 10.7-yard average, caught a pair of passes, and scored 19 touchdowns.
Adding in his 32 extra points, he finished with 146 points this season.
He was also the Tigers’ leading tackler with 42 1/2 stops, made one interception on defense, punted and handled kickoffs, with numerous boots into the endzone for touchbacks.
He earned the Player of the Week award on Sept. 6, doing a little bit of everything in a 32-29 win over Bluefield.
He ran for 199 yards on 31 attempts, scoring touchdowns from 68 and 1 yard away. He made two extra point conversion kicks, had an interception, punted and led the team in tackles.
Taylor said, “You know, it makes me wonder if they kept a stat for anyone else. The man did it all.”
Sho-Johnson said playing almost every play “was really hard.” He recalled, “Sometimes when I would get tired, I would usually tell the coach ‘Can I go out, get a break, and come back in?’ And he was, like, ‘All right, one play. Come back in.’ ”
“I don’t really care, much, where they put me. You can put me anywhere, I will play the spot,” he said. “I would do anything the coach wanted me to do.”
Princeton head coach Randy Peek said, “Tahj can do it all. He’d run the ball. He played shut-down corner for us; we always put him on their best receiver. He kicked extra points, kicked off. He didn’t come off the field.”
“He’s going to be missed. He’s part of the reason we were 6-4 this year. He’s the big reason we turned the program around.”
“In our offense, he played fullback (so) he’s going to take a beating, inside. Most of his carries were from tackle to tackle. He took a pounding. Even when he wasn’t getting the ball, if you look at the film, he took a pounding by carrying out his fakes. He got hit, about every play.”
Peek said, “He’s a leader, on and off the field. Kids look up to him for leadership. He does the right thing.”
“At Princeton, we’ve got a bunch of great kids and you don’t have to worry, when you go home at night, what they’re doing, because you know where they’re at. They’re doing the right things. They’re going to be good citizens. We stay after them. And Tahj is a good example of that.”
After a question about Sho-Johnson’s size, Peek said, “You don’t always have to be a giant, because you’re measured by your heart and he has a lot of heart. He really put forth the effort this year, played in every game. ... He just did a great job for us this year.”
Princeton came up short of making the playoffs by less than one rating point. Sho-Johnson said, “I would have loved to go into the playoffs, play all the way (in) football. Sometimes, everyone has to lose. It was us.”
“I wish they will play well next year (and) go all the way,” he said, adding that he will return to watch.
He may not be around for some games because he wants to play college football. Asked about which of his many roles he would like to concentrate on, and why, he answered simply, “I would like to play running back in college, because, like, I’m fast. I’m fast, and I work hard.”
Finalists for Player of the Year, in addition to Sho-Johnson, were Bluefield quarterback R.J. Bourne and Giles fullback Brett Whitlow. Both helped their teams to the football state semifinals. Giles is still in the playoffs with a 13-0 record, hosting a semifinal game on Saturday.
Bourne completed 61 percent of his 172 passes, accounting for 1,769 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ran the ball 49 times for 299 yards and seven touchdowns. In his junior year, he led the Beavers to a 10-3 record.
Whitlow’s numbers on offense are eye-popping. The junior has accumulated 2,144 yards and 192 carries for a per carry average of 11.2 yards per attempt. He has also scored 28 touchdowns, made 58 extra point kicks and connected on one field goal.
With at least another game to play this season, he has scored 229 points in 2013 for the Spartans.
Whitlow was not present due to Tuesday’s football practice in Pearisburg.
— Contact Tom Bone at