A member of Southern Oregon University’s football and track and field teams, Ceres High School grad Conner Johnson finalized plans last week to join the school’s wrestling program as a walk-on athlete for the 2021-22 season.
“I’m super excited to have this opportunity,” he said. “I’m sad it took me this long to pursue it. I love wrestling so much. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to experience success.”
Johnson decided to become a collegiate wrestler after meeting Raiders’ head coach Joel Gibson at Southern Oregon’s Student Recreation Center.
Johnson works at the front desk at the 50,000-square-foot facility.
“We texted and he put me in the wrestling group chat,” Johnson stated. “I haven’t wrestled in four years. I wouldn’t say I’m nervous. I have so much more confidence in wrestling. I want to have fun. But winning is a big part of what I plan on doing this next season. I’m extremely competitive. I hate losing.”
Johnson will most likely compete in the 285-pound class.
“If heavyweight is the only option, then I’ll wrestle at that weight,” said Johnson, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 235 pounds. “Ninety-five percent of my pins in high school were from the cradle. I’ll need to be more technical in college.”
Johnson will handle snaps for punts, field goals and extra points if Southern Oregon plays football this school year.
The 2020 football campaign was moved to this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re preparing as if our season will be happening in March. We lost a lot of seniors because they decided to forego their last season because it got postponed.”Conner Johnson
“We’re preparing as if our season will be happening in March,” Johnson said. “We lost a lot of seniors because they decided to forego their last season because it got postponed. I sure hope there’s going to be a season.”
Winless through its first three games in 2019, Johnson was allowed to battle for the starting job.
He supplanted the previous long snapper following three days of competition at practice.
Johnson won decisively.
“I finally got my opportunity and attacked it,” he said. “Being able to earn the job was a great feeling. By far, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve experienced in athletics since birth. I’m super thankful.”
Johnson started at long snapper for the second game in a row as Southern Oregon rallied for a 29-28 win over visiting Carroll College on Sept. 28, 2019.
He was on the field for four punts, one field goal and four point-after kicks.
The Raiders overcame a 28-9 deficit with three straight touchdowns.
“I can remember running onto the field for the final kick,” he said. “It was 28-28 at the time. I had a perfect snap to my holder and the kick was good.”
Johnson and his teammates celebrated after Carroll College’s Hail-Mary pass attempt fell incomplete as time expired.
“The whole team stormed the field,” he said. “We were hugging each other. Some people were crying. My adrenaline was through the roof. It was so special to win like that. We’re not having the season we want.”
Johnson was perfect on the day against Montana Tech, which earned a hard-fought 17-14 win over visiting Southern Oregon on Sept. 21, 2019.
Southern Oregon compiled a 4-7 overall record and tied for fourth place in the Frontier Conference (4-6).
“I have a promising future if I keep practicing and getting better,” said Johnson, who suited up for one game at tight end with the Raiders in 2018.
Johnson and Southern Oregon had their 2020 outdoor track and field season cut short due to safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson will compete in the hammer throw and shot put during the 2021 campaign, which is slated to begin next month at the earliest.
“Track isn’t canceled,” he said. “We’ve scheduled a couple home meets. I start working out with the team on Monday (Jan. 18). But I don’t want to get my hopes up. I’ve prepared myself for the possibility of not having a season because of COVID.”
Johnson finished in 10th place in the hammer (41.49 meters) at the 2019 Cascade Collegiate Conference Championships.
“I’m less than 10 meters away from going to Nationals in the hammer throw,” he said.
Johnson was named Ceres High School’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2017.
He earned nine varsity letters, including three in football, track and field and wrestling.
Johnson experienced individual and team success as a key member of Ceres High’s wrestling program.
The 2016-17 Bulldogs claimed the blue Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV championship banner.
Ceres High also won Western Athletic Conference overall, tournament and dual-meet titles as well.
Johnson took first while competing in the 195-pound division at the WAC championships.
He finished third at Divisionals.
Seeded ninth in the shot put for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Track & Field Championships during his senior year, Johnson placed fifth with a personal-best toss of 51 feet, 43/4 inches.
He just missed securing a berth to state as the top three individuals advanced.
Johnson also successfully defended his WAC title.
A three-year starter in football, Johnson totaled 103 receptions, 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns at tight end.
He was named to the WAC First Team following his final season with the Bulldogs.
Johnson ranked second in the conference in catches (31), yardage (392) and TDs (4).
He garnered second-team all-league recognition as a junior.