José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

Burbank’s Printess Johnson is a 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end and All-Metro Conference first-team selection who had 90 tackles last season.

Burbank football coaches glad to see players go green

Published: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 - 12:00 am

Former Sacramento State football players Ervin Kendall and John Heffernan will tell you they still bleed green.

Yet during their long tenure as coaches at Burbank High School, where they took a downtrodden program and turned it into a perennial winner, they have watched players leave to play for Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Louisville and other schools – but not the Hornets.

That changed Wednesday when defensive lineman Printess Johnson and all-purpose player Ernest Jenkins signed letters of intent with Sac State.

“I’m so excited for the opportunity those two are going to have,” said Heffernan, a defensive back for the Hornets in 1996 and 1997 and Burbank head coach since 2002. “As ex-Hornets, it’s going to be neat to see Burbank kids putting on the green and gold and representing Sac State.”

Kendall, Burbank’s longtime defensive coordinator, has been a regular at Sac State games. He played defensive back and wide receiver for the Hornets in 1995 and led a group that helped lobby Sac State’s student body to raise their fees to save football that same year.

“I tell the players all the time that I bleed green and gold – that I’m a Hornet for life,” Kendall said. “Sac State really is a program on the rise. But at the same time, John and I have never pressured the kids about going to Sac State, though it’s little surprising that it took this long to crack the code.”

Heffernan said Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck has always shown an interest in Burbank players. But in the past, the fit didn’t quite work for several reasons.

Players like Terrance Mitchell (Oregon) or Burbank’s two other players to sign letters of intent Wednesday – Ngalu Tapa and Calvin Green (both signed with Washington State) – are high-level Division I recruits.

Other Titans have preferred to go away to school, including Northern Arizona’s Lucky Dozier, Eastern Washington’s Anthony Larry and Cal Poly’s Tu’uta Inoke. All play, or played, for Big Sky Conference rivals of the Hornets.

Still others needed to shore up their academics and couldn’t qualify for a four-year college out of high school, or they needed to get away from the influences of their gritty south Sacramento neighborhoods.

“We were blessed to have two young men who had their stuff together, academically,” Heffernan said of Johnson and Jenkins. “With their speed, size and athleticism, they’re going to be game-changers for the Hornets.”

Johnson is a 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end and All-Metro Conference first-team selection who had 90 tackles and excelled in December’s Optimist All-Star Football Game.

The 6-1, 190-pound Jenkins played mostly at quarterback his junior and senior seasons, passing for 21 touchdowns and rushing for 11 to lead Burbank to its fourth consecutive Metro Conference title in 2013. He likely will play defensive back at Sac State, though he also could get a look at receiver.

Jenkins and Johnson saw Sac State play Northern Arizona last fall at Hornet Stadium and came away impressed by the enthusiastic crowd and the level of play by both schools in a game the Lumberjacks rallied to win 39-38.

Johnson, nicknamed by teammates “Hit Stick” for his aggressive play, impressed Sac State coaches in a one-day camp last June. Sperbeck made the scholarship offer shortly after the camp.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go to college and be able to play football,” Johnson said. “I’m a family person, so it’s big that I will get to play in front of my friends and relatives, especially my grandmother.”

Elizabeth Holmes, who Johnson said is battling lung cancer, has helped him stay focused on school and away from trouble.

Johnson said he was an indifferent student as a freshman at Monterey Trail High School but got a shot at a fresh start after transferring to Burbank as a sophomore.

“I really feel lucky,” Johnson said. “There were (fewer) distractions, and I can’t say enough about all the help I’ve gotten from the teachers and my coaches.”

Jenkins hadn’t received much recruiting interest, other than from Weber State and its struggling program. The Wildcats were looking at Jenkins as a slot receiver, and he took an official visit to the Ogden, Utah, campus after coach Jody Sears’ had been fired.

After Sears was hired as Sac State’s defensive coordinator in January, Jenkins received a surprising invitation for an official visit.

“Then I meet with coach Sperbeck, and he’s talking about (scholarship) money. That’s when I knew it was an offer,” Jenkins said. “I knew this was my chance. Wow! It was a dream come true.”


Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson



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