WHITE PINE — Staying close to home was a big deal for JJ Johnson of Lakeway Christian Academy as he pondered where to play baseball at the next level.
The senior catcher of the Lions won’t be far from home as he signed his National Letter of Intent with Carson-Newman University Monday afternoon to extend his academic and baseball career with the Eagles. After receiving the offer, Johnson’s decision was an easy one to make.
“I’m a big family man, so staying close to home was important to me,” Johnson said. “I went to a camp at ETSU and then had a conversation with Carson-Newman. A few days later they offered and it was an easy decision for me. It’s a place where I can grow spiritually and as a player.”
Johnson got into LCA before the baseball program really took off. Not knowing what to expect for the next four years, he leaned on his faith in God and trusted head baseball coach Chuck Hargis throughout the journey.
And by following his faith and doing the work, on and off the field, the dream of playing college-level baseball as a child came true.
“I’ve been looking forward to this moment since I could dream of it,” Johnson said. “It’s a great achievement for me. It feels great to sign with Carson-Newman.”
Johnson became the first player in the LCA baseball program to sign a scholarship. Growing into a leader for Hargis’s team over the years, he hasn’t set the bar for what LCA’s baseball program aims to continue to do: develop college baseball players.
“I coach to help young men become better young men,” Hargis said. “I want those guys who want to play at the next level to achieve those goals. Johnson shows we can do that. He’s the first to sign a grant for us. Hopefully our kids see that and see what can be achieved. ”
Johnson has always been seen as the leader of LCA, not just in the baseball program, but around the school. Hargis shared how quickly he has matured as a player, as a student and most importantly as a follower of Christ.
Last season, Johnson was another honorable mention from the Division II-A, District 1 All-Team. He finished his junior season with a .341 BA, .393 OBP, .832 OPS, and .439 SLG. The catcher closed with 28 basehits (21 singles, six doubles and one triple). He also delivered 21 RBI’s and seven runs.
In his primary position, Johnson finished with 125.2 innings played, 11 PB, 36 SB, 14 CS and 39 CS%.
LCA has meant a lot to Johnson and played a major role in his development as a player and person.
“Lakeway’s program has come a long way and it has helped me a lot too,” Johnson said. “I knew this was a place where I could grow. Hargis is someone I have looked up to while I am here and he has been such a mentor to me. I have grown as a player and as a person as a result.”
Hargis can say much of the same about his eldest.
“He’s been a great kid since we got him,” Hargis said. “A lot of kids look up to him – he’s a unanimous caption of our squad. He has been a great leader to us and someone who set the standards for our program. I am grateful to be a part of his journey.”
Johnson has one more year to finish at LCA before moving on to play for the Eagles. He said he wanted to make the most of it and cherish every moment of the final baseball season of his high school career.
He plans to study business administration while working for Carson-Newman.