AMERICUS, Ga. – One area high school is fighting for a playoff spot with a little extra motivation Friday night. The Americus-Sumter Panthers are dealing with a loss no team likes to face at any point in the season. The tragic drowning of junior Jamorrian Johnson will weigh on the minds of his teammates as they try to end the season on a high note.
The Panthers already had five losses under their belt ahead of their Region 1-AAAA showdown with the Columbus High Blue Devils. But losing their leading tackler and a teammate in one night is unprecedented in the team’s history.
“I’ve been coaching for 34 years and this has never happened during the season,” head football coach Erik Soliday said. “He was real contagious the way he played. He played wide open and full speed and made everyone around him play the same way.”
But the team must try to compensate for losing such intensity on the football field, after losing Johnson, 17, Saturday in an accidental drowning. Coach Soliday says he called the team in Sunday to deliver the heartbreaking news.
“You can’t fix it because you don’t have any control over it,” Coach Soliday said. “It’s tough. It’s one thing for adults, they know how to handle things. But as a coach you see your kids hurting because you can’t fix it. It’s difficult.”
Since Coach Soliday came back to lead the Panthers after a decade-long hiatus last year, he has adopted a new family and a new mission to grow the Panther program.
“You know I spend more time with these guys than I do my own family because I’m here more than I am at home,” Coach Soliday explained. “So it’s just like losing one of your own.”
Ahead of Americus-Sumter’s biggest game of the year, the coach’s message to his team is clear.
“Let’s honor him in the way we play,” Coach Soliday preached. “Don’t worry about the scoreboard. Just play with everything you have and play like he would want you to play.”
The panthers will wear helmet decals honoring Johnson’s life Friday night. A number 25 will also adorn midfield, as well as imprint the hearts and minds of Johnson’s impassioned teammates.