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West Mifflin keys in on neutralizing Belle Vernon's Johnson

| Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, 12:16 a.m.
Belle Vernon's Dorian Johnson. (Jim Ference | Valley Independent)

When West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo looked at the schedule for this week and saw his team was playing at Belle Vernon, he gave his players some advice.

Shhhh.

“I told our kids not to say anything to get them mad,” Braszo said. “Especially the big guy.”

That would be 6-foot-6, 290-pound senior two-way lineman Dorian Johnson. The Titans would like nothing better than to have Johnson in a mellow mood when the teams meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Jim Weir Stadium.

Johnson had verballed to Penn State but since has opted out of his commitment because of NCAA sanctions handed down after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Johnson is one of the most highly prized FBS line prospects in the WPIAL and will play in the annual Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Jan. 4.

“Guys like Dorian don't come around that often, and he's really elevated his game this year,” Belle Vernon coach Aaron Krepps said. “He's playing much more physical and consistent, and it's very noticeable because he's jumping off film at you, and that's what we need out of him. We need him to be that type of player.”

It isn't like this is the first time West Mifflin has seen Johnson. The Titans have had to deal with him throughout his developmental phase and into last season, when he came into his own. But the Leopards haven't had the kind of success they would have liked with such an imposing force up front: They are 1-2 in the past three years against West Mifflin, including a 27-0 loss in 2011.

West Mifflin has a plan to neutralize Johnson, as 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior linebacker Marcus Martin and 6-foot-1 260-pound senior lineman Jimmy Popa will double-team him in an effort to open gaps for linebackers to attack Belle Vernon running back Cory Urlacher.

“Our kids have a lot of pride, and they are starters and they know it's going to be a tough task,” Braszo said. “We played them last year, and they know what to expect from him, and obviously he's a little bigger and stronger, but they know what to expect, and we'll do the best we can with him.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.

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