Before first-year Chamberlain High football coach Dedrick "DJ" Mayo even thought about taking the job, he was already thinking about Xavier Johnson.
Johnson had an outstanding junior season rushing for more than 1,700 yards and accounting for 16 touchdowns prompting the Chiefs new coach to immediately track down game tapes. Mayo's expectations were immediately high and once he actually saw the 5-foot-10, 175-pound back on the field, expectations bubbled over to excitement.
"I knew about him before I even interviewed and I knew if you rush for 1,700 yards on any team in Hillsborough County then you are pretty good," Mayo said. "Seeing him live – he's better than I even thought. I watched the film before I got here, but seeing him in person is impressive."
A good weapon for Mayo to build on, but he knows the task isn't all that simple. Despite the hefty yardage total from the incumbent tailback, the Chiefs struggled to finish games a season ago and went 1-9, losing five by a touchdown or less.
"The challenge is to change the culture, change the mentality, change the habits and perform how a championship program performs off the field before you can do it on the field," Mayo said. "(The team) averaged 20 points a game last year, it's just finishing the game that is something we are going to do more of this year."
For his part though, Johnson is just happy the team is going a different direction as the Chiefs went from a perennial playoff team through the 2000s to a team that has gone 5-25 in his three seasons. Despite his personal success, the senior said there was a lack of consistency his first three years to do the extras off the field that helps breed success.
"Last year … we barely even went in the weight room as a team," Johnson said. "This year has been different and things are being done the right way."
Johnson has verbally committed to South Alabama, who he said is still his top school, but has received full scholarship offers from Toledo and Marshall. And with a strong chance he will again see 230 carries this season, he's likely to collect a few more offers before he makes a final decision.
He said the success he had individually last year came from the extra work he and a few teammates put in on their own, but now is being embraced and bolstered by the new coaching staff. Though the extra time is something Johnson has continued with weight room sessions with teammates Marcus Stewart and Jermaine Gilyard.
"It's more than just what goes on once we are on the field," Johnson said. "I know that we have to be the heart, the motivators, the leaders, the ones that show it this year for everyone else to follow."