Gorman: 'You can't let things go to your head'
This wasn't how college football fans envisioned Robert Foster and Dorian Johnson sharing the same field.
They might have imagined seeing Central Valley's Foster, ranked the nation's top receiver prospect by Scout.com, and Belle Vernon's Johnson, the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle prospect by ESPN's Scouts Inc., in Pitt's blue and gold or Ohio State's scarlet and gray or Alabama's crimson and white.
This wasn't a night for those dreaming of watching Foster and Johnson play for the same team. Instead, they were opponents in a WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game.
And only one of them played.
“I'm not sitting out for no reason,” Foster said. “I'm sitting out for a reason: I'm learning from my mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, and I made mine.”
A week ago, while Johnson was recovering a fumble in the end zone for his first-ever touchdown in a victory over Albert Gallatin, Foster was being ejected from a loss to Beaver Falls after drawing two personal-foul penalties. Under PIAA rules, Foster is automatically suspended for the following game, meaning a loss would make this his last game.
“It's tough, but you learn from your mistakes,” Foster said. “I was wrong for what I did. I apologized to my teammates and everyone else that supported me. But I believe in my team and my coaches that they will do what they have to to win the game.”
Not only would Central Valley have to beat Belle Vernon minus Foster but also without injured quarterback Nate Climo and tailback Jordan Whitehead.
So Foster and Johnson were essentially in the same situation, knowing the fate of their high school careers was not in their hands but those of teammates.
Despite Johnson's dominant play on both sides of the ball — not to mention Foster's absence — Central Valley rallied for a 17-16 win over Belle Vernon on Elliot Taylor's 22-yard field goal with seven seconds left Friday.
Where Johnson could at least block and tackle, Foster could only watch from the sidelines.
“The ball is not in my hands, but I truly believe I have teammates that can make plays,” Foster said. “Instead of people watching me, they can watch my teammates make plays. There's no more coming to games to see me; it's coming to see Central Valley. I'm not Central Valley. I'm just Robert Foster.
“I can't do things on the field if it wasn't for my teammates. That is one of the best lessons I've learned: Don't let things go to your head, obviously. When you're someone special with God-given talent, you can't let things go to your head. You've got to let it go in one ear and out the other.”
Sounds like someone who has already let things go to his head. Which is easy to do when colleges covet your services as a recruit and recruiting services covet breaking your commitment to a college.
It's the Catch-22 of prep football. We watch relative unknowns develop into major-college prospects only to see them become overwhelmed by overexposure during the recruiting process.
Where Foster led Central Valley to a WPIAL title as a sophomore and has more than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing and receiving combined this season, Johnson generated attention with his 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame and athleticism.
“He's scary,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “We've probably never faced an offensive lineman with that capability of wiping out a side of a line.
“Everything everybody is writing about him and why they're recruiting him, it's pretty accurate. To find another high school defender to neutralize him, it's not fair. I look at it as you're asking a defensive back to play Foster one-on-one.”
Belle Vernon coach Aaron Krepps believes the oversaturation of recruiting coverage and social media has made players household names before they are mature enough to deal with the pressure.
“These are still young kids,” Krepps said. “It becomes a burden. It's not something they should have to deal with in the sheer volume they have to.”
Foster learned another lesson Thursday, after revealing on Twitter that he was ready to announce his college choice. When word spread within minutes, he retracted the statement and said he would wait.
“The biggest thing he has to understand is, everybody is watching you,” Lyons said. “Whether they're watching for the good things or if they're jealous and they're waiting to nail you, that's what he had to learn. Kids don't always look at it like that. They're like, ‘You mean, somebody wants me to fail?' Yeah, they do.”
Johnson shies away from the spotlight for that reason.
“It is pretty nerve-wracking knowing you have people coming to watch you,” Johnson said. “You don't want to mess up.”
Especially with your high school career hanging in the balance.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.