Sheldon Johnson came to Gilman as a sophomore, weighing about 300 pounds. That’s the kind of size football coaches love if it’s muscle weight, but Johnson appeared slow and out of shape in 2011.
“He was just too heavy to be an effective player,” Gilman defensive coordinator Stan White recalled. “He couldn’t play two downs in a row.”
Two years later, the senior has slimmed down to 270 pounds and developed into an elite prospect.
“He should be proud that he has gone from a guy who couldn’t play for us to a guy who is playing for his state,” White said.
The 6-foot-3 Johnson, an offensive guard, will be competing in the 57th installment of the Big 33 Football Classic. The Pennsylvania-based all-star game features elite players from Maryland and Pennsylvania June 14 at Hershey Park Stadium and will be televised on the NFL Network.
Johnson will attend Army’s prep school in the fall and plans to enroll at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2015.
The Black Knights want to use him as a defensive end.
“I feel very special to be chosen for this game,” Johnson said. “Maryland is a very big state and has a lot of very talented athletes and football players. I just want to put the pads on one more time before I go off to college. So I can’t wait for the opportunity. They have consistently chosen people for this game that have gone on to the pros.”
“It’s really one of the long-standing classics in this country for all-star football games,” Gilman assistant football coach Henry Russell said. “I think every Super Bowl has had a kid that has played in the Big 33. It makes it special for the kids to participate.”
Johnson was one of Gilman’s lesser-known starters coming into the 2013 season.
“I really wasn’t getting recruited by anyone,” Johnson said of his junior year in which he started at guard and played as a backup nose tackle.
That all changed during his senior year when Johnson lost 30 pounds over the summer.
“In one month, I stopped eating bread,” Johnson said. “And I cut out all the snacks and junk food that I ate. Thirty pounds was gone and it never came back because I stayed on that diet.”
Johnson’s play during his senior year attracted a lot of interest from Division I schools.
He was recruited by Navy, Georgetown, Lafayette, Lehigh, Dartmouth and Cornell before choosing Army.
“He really developed as an athlete and became a football player that could play two ways for us,” White said of Johnson, who carried a 3.26 grade-point average. “He is a great example for our other kids of what they can do if they develop their athleticism. It’s about more than lifting weights and running. It’s body and balance control and all those things.”
This will be Johnson’s second all-star game. He played in the Baltimore Touchdown Club Senior All-Star game in December at Archbishop Spalding.
Johnson was picked for the Big 33 Football Classic by a group by members of the Maryland Football Coaches Association.
He will play with about a dozen players from the Baltimore area, including Arcbishop Spalding quarterback Zach Abey, Milford Mill wide receiver Reggie White Jr. and McDonogh defensive back Josh Woods.
“His work ethic is right up there with anybody we have ever had,” Russell said. “He will definitely play hard in this game. That’s one thing he does.”