Sidnee Johnson and Marquel Lane were two of the major players during a resurgence of the Adairsville football program the last few years.
Johnson is one of the all-time leading rushers in school history, while Lane was the first Atlanta Journal-Constitution first-team all-state selection since Vic Beasley and Catlin Alford in 2009. Together, they helped the Tigers reach the state playoffs all four years while they were at Adairsville and make the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2001.
Because of the pair’s accomplishments over the course of their careers, it was a big day Tuesday at Adairsville High when they both signed scholarships to play at the next level.
Johnson signed to play for Fort Scott Community College while Lane will take his game to Scottsdale Community College.
“It’s no secret to what both of these guys have meant to our program here, and how they’ve taken this football program and taken some steps that we haven’t made around here in a very long time. ” Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop said of Johnson and Lane. “They wanted to sign together on the same day. There’s been ups and downs throughout this recruiting process for both of them. But the thing I’m most proud of is the way they’ve taken their time and really weighed all the pros and cons on their decision. They kind of made that first real mature decision that will ultimately affect the rest of their lives.”
Johnson off to Fort Scott
Johnson helped put most of Adairsville’s opponents away before halftime with big rushing totals in the first two quarters.
However, his college decision proved to have more drama than many of the games he played in Region 6-AAA the last two years with the Tigers as Johnson’s decision came down to the final hour before signing.
Johnson received his first scholarship offer before his senior season began. However, at 1:30 p.m. the day of his signing, he thought he would be going to Dean College in Massachusetts.
At 1:17 p.m., Bishop got the paperwork from Fort Scott, and at around 2:30 p.m., Johnson decided he would be going to the Kansas school instead of Dean College, after all.
“It’s crazy. Before I was about to sign the papers, I got a phone call from coach. He said I want you. So I thought hard about it, and went ahead and signed with them,” Johnson said of his signing day. “It came down to the last minute and they spoke to me a little bit. They had 92 prospects go out to [four-year schools in the last two years]. And it’s closer than Dean College is all the way up in Massachusetts.”
“That situation came in late. He thought for the longest time he was going to end up going to Dean College. We thought that’s where we were in the process until earlier [Tuesday]. Coach Kelly from Fort Scott Community College called and made an offer over the phone,” Bishop said of the final few hours before Johnson signed. “I’ve never seen that before. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen again either. He called at 1:17 [Tuesday] afternoon, and by the time I got all the paperwork, got his parents down here, got him to my office and kind of told him what we were dealing with, we talked and he kind of felt, at that point, it was time to make a decision to go to Fort Scott. So it’s kind of been crazy.”
Regardless of how Fort Scott came to sign Johnson, the quality of running back the school is getting is without question. The records cannot be confirmed, but Johnson is one of, if not the all-time leading rusher in Adairsville history. He finished his career with 4,006 rushing yards and was among the state’s leading rushers as a senior with 2,013 rushing yards.
“It was crazy. I’m blessed,” Johnson said of his career. “I’m just thankful to God for blessing me with the abilities to get to the numbers that I have and the stats and breaking records.”
Johnson played some running back and started the second half of his freshman year at linebacker. He then ran for 684 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in eight games while playing both ways. He also contributed 465 yards and two touchdowns on kickoff returns.
As a junior, he ran for 1,309 yards on 123 carries for a 10.6 yards per rush average to go along with 17 touchdowns.
As a senior, he averaged nearly 155 rushing yards per game and carried the ball 239 times, 25 of which went for touchdowns. He also had a receiving touchdown and returned five kickoffs for 113 yards, a 22.6-yard average.
He rushed for a career high 258 yards against North Murray this season and rushed for over 170 yards seven times in the last two years.
“The thing with Sidnee is, he was such a workhorse,” Bishop said. “That’s the most impressive thing with him. I would tell him in all those games when he’d get pulled early, ‘You have to be that 20-25 carry guy when we get in the playoffs.’ You could just see when we got into the playoffs the last three years that was when he was at his best because he knew he was going to get challenged. When you’re in a third-and-short situation, everyone knew who was going to get the football and he was going to do what it takes to help his team. Those were the factors that really made him great.”
Johnson helped Adairsville break the all-time scoring record at the school for most points in a season during the 2014 campaign and the Tigers nearly broke it again in 2015. He was a three-time all-region selection, a three-time Daily Tribune News all-county selection and a two-time DTN Offensive Player of the Year.
As a senior, Johnson was named honorable mention all-state by the AJC, first-team all-state by the Georgia Sports Writers Association and played in the Northwest Georgia Bowl as well as the GACA North-South All-Star Classic.
“He’s one of the best backs to ever come through this school,” Bishop said of Johnson’s career. “He may not be the best. It really depends on who you talk to and what era they were in. It kind of depends on what generation they come from. The great thing about that is you don’t have those kind of arguments if you don’t have some level of tradition. If you haven’t had great teams in the past, then you won’t have those arguments. So we’ll continue to let them argue and, hopefully, continue the tradition as well.”
With all the accolades and accomplishments, Johnson said he was incessantly asked about where he was going to college.
“It was a lot of [pressure],” he said. “Every day it was ‘Hey man, where you singing? Hey man, I know you’re signing somewhere. Let me know.’ I would just say, ‘Hey, come to signing day. That’s when I’m going to sign.’”
Despite the long recruitment process, Bishop believes Johnson found the right fit.
“It’s just been a crazy recruiting proces with him. We obviously put film out on him all over the country, and just never really got the initial interest,” Bishop said. “We had a solid situation with Dean and then Fort Scott came along [Tuesday] and they’re really, really excited for him. ... The thing about Fort Scott, they’re real excited for him as a running back. They have a running back that was an all-American last year before getting hurt this year. And they’re real excited about the skillset he has. He said, watching the film on Sidnee reminds him a lot of this guy and he feels like he’s going to be a player that will fit the model of what they’re looking for at the running back position.”
Bishop also believes Fort Scott is a good place for Johnson with the school’s record of sending players to four-year schools.
“It’s pretty impressive how many guys they get signed. Nine of their 11 starters on defense last year went and they’ve had like 92 kids in the last two years that went on to play,” Bishop said. “Those two things, along with the financial package they offered, kind of made it a no-brainer that that was probably the best place for Sidnee to go.”
Johnson will study business when he gets to Fort Scott and is ready to make an impact, or as he says, “get a highlight in.”
“It took a while because I was just waiting on what else I had. It came down to the last minute, but I found where I want to go with Fort Scott,” Johnson said. “I feel comfortable about going up there to Kansas, getting the job done for one year and they promised they’d get me into a [four-year school] if I keep my grades right and keep my head on my shoulders.”
Lane signs to Scottsdale CC
In the 2015 Class 3A second-round game against Jackson, Lane was matched up at cornerback with Duke wide receiver commit Ny’J Smith.
The 5-foot-6 Lane was giving up about a foot of height to Smith, but the Division I commit had just one short reception during the game as the Tigers earned their biggest win in over a decade.
Despite his height, Lane was never overmatched at cornerback for Adairsville and always was ready for the challenge of guarding the other team’s best receiver.
He’ll have the chance to go against many more talented players at his next stop at Scottsdale Community College.
“Marquel was a four-year starter, played in like 48 high school football games. He was always somewhat undersized, but played with a big heart and has always been really, really fast,” Bishop said of Lane. “I tell people all the time, he’s the only one on Friday nights that didn’t know he was the smallest guy on the field. But he always played with a big heart and a very, very fast motor. He has always been in unbelievable shape from a conditioning standpoint and a strength and speed standpoint. He’ll surely be missed.”
Former Adairsville receiver Hiram Velez played for two years at Scottsdale and has since signed to play for Troy University. Lane hopes to follow a similar path and feels like Scottsdale is the right fit for him to advance to a four-year school.
“It was the best opportunity for me and they see the potential in me,” Lane said of his college decision. “Really, I’m going to keep working on myself and keep improving. I have to be the best I can be. That’s why I took the JUCO route instead of committing, so I can improve my game before I go to the next level.”
Velez helped get Lane’s foot in the door with the Arizona school’s coaching staff.
“Hiram had a lot to do with it. I had sent them film, but he called out there and said, ‘Look, this guy went to school where I came through. He plays like I did,’” Bishop said of Velez’s role in the recruiting of Lane. “I do [think it’s a good fit] and mainly because Hiram Velez went there and what they look for in that position, Marquel will fit the model perfectly for them. That’s why I was really excited whenever he got the offer from them to go there because they kind of have that scatback, slotback-type, hybrid running back/receiver kid. They really like Marquel on punt and kick return, also.
“I think it’s a great fit for him football-wise and academically.”
Lane had 17 pass breakups this season at cornerback, adding two interceptions and 29 tackles as he was a DTN all-county and all-Region 6-AAA selection and made the AJC and GSWA all-state teams as a defensive back. He also was selected to play in the Northwest Georgia Bowl.
“I did not expect it,” Lane said of making the AJC all-state first team. “I didn’t even know I made it. Coach Bishop texted me and said congratulations on all-state. I didn’t even know my name was in the paper. It really was a [big honor]. It’s just the hard work I put in over the summer no one sees. That’s what I’m trying to tell the people that are coming up. You have to put in the work on and off the field. It’s really going to pay off.”
On offense as a receiver, Lane had 22 receptions for 352 yards with three touchdowns along with 17 carries for 174 yards and four touchdowns rushing as a senior. He also returned a kick for a touchdown and returned 11 kicks for 452 yards on the year.
Despite his standout performance for Adairsville, Bishop believes Lane’s size may have held him back in the recruiting process.
“Marquel’s size is always going to be a question mark in some people’s eyes,” Bishop said. “I constantly told the coaches as they were coming through in the recruiting fairs, ‘If you can get past his size, you’re going to love him.’ He went against that 6-7 receiver from Jackson that’s committed to Duke and the kid didn’t have a downfield catch all night long. He just plays so much bigger than his body is.”
While not the tallest player on the field, Lane was one of Adairsville’s hardest workers in the weight room and the best conditioned. His 4.31-second time in the 40-yard dash didn’t hurt matters either.
And if you ask Lane about his size, he’s clear it does not hold him back a bit.
“I dont feel that way, but I know how it goes. But I still don’t let that stop me,” he said. “It ain’t hold me back. Did you watch the Jackson game?”
In that Jackson game, Lane may have played as big of a role as anyone in the Tiger’s big win that propelled the program to the first state quarterfinal appearance since 2001.
“I was stressing the whole day,” Lane said of the game. “[Defensive coordinator Jon Cudd] was like, ‘Just play on defense.’ So that whole day and in pregame warmups, I was thing about it. But when the time came, I just had to do it. They threw like four go routes to [Smith]. All he caught was a little stop route for like five yards.”
Lane was recruited by Dean College and a school in North Dakota, but chose Scottsdale. He was recruited as an athlete and could see time as a return man, at corner or as a slot receiver like Velez. He does have a preference, though.
“I like corner. I just like the intensity that the defense gives,” he said. “I like guarding tall receivers because they think they’re about to catch it over me. So I just like competing, too.”
Lane plans on studying business at Scottsdale and has his sights set on his future. Still, he will always have fond memories of his days in the green and gold.
“I’m proud of [my career] football-wise and school-wise because I got to know everybody,” Lane said. “My freshman year, I came in and started. I’m not going to lie, I caught the big head. My sophomore year, I hurt my ankle, and when I got back on the field, I wasn’t the same. So, when I started training my junior year and my senior year, I had the mindset. I had to work for everything I got.”