MOUNT VERNON — Josh Johnson hasn’t put on football pads since 1999, when he was a star for the Centerburg Trojans.
Now, Johnson is looking to recapture that glory one more time — at least — as a member of the Mount Vernon Militia.
“We always talked about doing it one more time,” said Johnson. “When we graduated, we went out into the real world. This gives us an opportunity.”
Usually, the crack of the pads on the football gridiron aren’t heard around Mount Vernon until early August. This year, football season begins a little early — June 2, to be exact — when the Militia take the field for the first time in a regular season game.
Mount Vernon is the latest addition to the Northern Frontier Football League, a 13-team semipro league consisting of teams in Columbus, Mansfield, Cincinnati, Akron and other cities all around Ohio and as far away as Kentucky.
Mount Vernon has a preseason scrimmage next Saturday at the practice field next to Yellow Jacket Stadium. The Militia’s first game is a home contest scheduled for Saturday, June 2, against the Akron Chargers. Mount Vernon will have five home games in all, culminating on Saturday, Aug. 4, against the Central Ohio Spartans.
As an expansion team, the Militia has had to build from the ground up. People who haven’t played since high school are suiting up again, and others from nearby NFFL teams are joining in to be closer to home.
“It’s fun, fast-paced and you get to hit people,” said Matt Davis, a Fredericktown native who works in construction. “You build relationships. We all get along. We’ve definitely bonded as a family here. We came from Columbus, Fredericktown, Mount Vernon — all over. We all bonded pretty quick.”
“I’m dedicated. I’m here every practice to improve myself,” said Brendan Jefferson, who played previously with the Mansfield Marauders, another NFFL team. “I feel like I can go to battle with these guys. ... I feel like I have more of a bond with these guys.”
Head coach Lee Dugas, a former assistant at Kenyon, has been looking for players since Day 1. He found his first recruit on a whim while passing out flyers.
“The head coach came into my store and asked to hang up a flyer,” said quarterback A.J. Johnston, who manages a pet store. “I was immediately interested. Football — there isn’t anything greater.”
“I asked him if he knew anyone who was interested, and he said, ‘Give me that flyer,’” Dugas recalled. “He contacted a few people, and within an hour and a half, I had three guys committed to play.”
Johnston quarterbacked Centerburg before moving on and leading Hiram College. His throws in practice were his first in years.
“I’m still a little rusty,” said Johnston. “But we’re working on it.”
By the start of practice, there were nearly 30 players. Now, there are about 15. But the drop in participation has not diminished the spirit of those remaining.
Johnson, a truck driver, wanted one more chance to play football. He said he has loved every minute of it.
“When I first put the pads on, I was a little nervous about how my body was going to handle the hitting,” said Johnson. “But once we got out there, it was just like high school again.”