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Thanksgiving football: Chichester’s Johnson more thankful than most for one more game

UPPER CHICHESTER >> Naquan Johnson never wanted to leave Chichester High School.

Last summer, though, he came very close to transferring. After his junior year, Johnson did not know whether he would return to Chichester in the fall.

Johnson’s father had a long-term goal for Naquan and the family, to move everyone into a newly built home in Clayton, Del.

“We established that a good four or five years ago,” Johnson said. “That’s what we wanted to do, to build a house.”

Chichester lineman Naquan Johnson rests between reps at practice Monday. The senior’s family decided to delay a move to Delaware to allow Johnson to finish his high school studies at Chichester, his football career culminating in Thursday’s rivalry showdown with Sun Valley. (Digital First Media)

When his home in the Chichester School District sold during the summer, after years on the market, Johnson and his family — father, stepmother and two younger sisters — had to find somewhere to go before the new house is finished.

“We had to get an apartment either here or out in Delaware,” Johnson said. “When it came down to it, we stayed here. I was able to stay and play.”

Johnson has reason to be thankful. He is looking forward to sharing new memories with his family but grateful he was provided the opportunity to stick around for his final year in high school.

Johnson explained what it meant for him to remain a student-athlete at Chichester during a conversation at the Cpl. Jacai D. Colson Scholarship flag football game Saturday, Nov. 18. Colson, a former football player at Chichester, was a Prince George’s County (Md.) Officer, killed in the line of duty on March 13, 2016. The second annual game is a scholarship fundraiser provided to a graduating senior pursuing a career in law enforcement.

It’s also a special new tradition leading up to the Sun Valley-Chichester Thanksgiving battle. Thursday’s matchup marks the rivalry’s 50th edition to be played on Turkey Day.

For a brief time, Johnson, who has excelled on the offensive and defensive lines, wondered if he would have the opportunity to help the Eagles vie for a second straight win in the historic season.

“I love my teammates,” Johnson said. “During the summer, it was crazy because I was getting texts from coaches every day, like, ‘Hey, are we getting any good news yet?,’ whether I was staying here or going to Delaware. When it was said that I would be staying here, I was pretty happy. …

“At a certain point, I knew I would be coming back but wasn’t sure if I’d be back in time for football practice,” he added. “Not being able to play definitely would have been a little heartbreaking.”

His coaches were happy, too. Johnson sets a great example of what it means to be a Chichester football player with his actions on and off the field.

“It was a huge compromise by the family, and Naquan and the team are extremely thankful for it,” Chichester coach Ryan Smith said. “Na is a great kid.”

Johnson was back with the team before the season and has made major contributions on a team that qualified for the District 1 playoffs for the first time in history. That’s one memory Johnson wouldn’t have had in Delaware.

A few months back, Johnson wasn’t sure where he would be on Thanksgiving. He’s excited to know now that he’ll be at Sun Valley, playing in his final game, with his boys.

Johnson wouldn’t want it any other way.

“It’s going to be a feeling of accomplishment,” Johnson said. “I’ve been playing for four years with the same team. It’s going to feel good to finish strong with my guys.

***

Sun Valley (4-7) and Chichester (4-6) return to action three weeks after they were eliminated in the opening round of the District 1 Class 5A tournament. The Vanguards are looking to snap a four-game losing streak.

Sun Valley will lean heavily on junior athlete Julz Kelly, who has amassed more than 1,400 yards of total offense. Kelly has scored 16 touchdowns. Tight end James Gines has 40 catches for 440 yards and two touchdowns.

Senior all-purpose Rashaad Shaw leads the way for Chichester with 11 touchdowns. Cody Proffitt has been a force at linebacker.

Chichester earned a 14-10 decision in last year’s meeting. Sun Valley leads the series, 29-26.

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