It’s not often you can find as good a package between athletics and academics than Matt Johnson of Jefferson.
This makes Johnson the perfect representative for Jefferson as its Pass-it-Along Scholar Athlete for 2020. On the field, Johnson is a standout athlete for both the Jefferson football and basketball teams.
“It means a lot,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of good athletes in our school. A lot of kids on our basketball team play multiple sports and are definitely worthy of it. It’s really cool to be chosen for it because there are so many other people who could have gotten in it. I was lucky enough to get it.”
As the quarterback for the Falcons, Jefferson head coach Jerry Venturino re-designed his entire playbook around Johnson’s arm talent and his athletic receivers. Growing up in the run-based wing-T offense, Venturino went all in on the spread offense because that is what he felt gave him the Falcons the best chance to win.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “He came up to me with the idea, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I love the idea.’ We had so many weapons on offense for us this year to get the ball to. Going spread was our best option and it felt good that he trusted me to get the ball out to our players.”
Johnson was the quintessential pocket passer with great weapons around him such as Michael Gould, David Hanna and Caleb Rippey. He threw for 1,903 yards and 16 touchdowns in leading Jefferson to a 6-4 record and a berth in the North 1, Group 3 state tournament. It was a three-win improvement from the previous season.
On the basketball court, Johnson recently scored the 1,000th point of his career on Feb. 17 at Mount Olive on a thunderous dunk. As a junior, Johnson was on an extremely talented team with a strong senior class consistent of Joe Batelli, Stefan Tisma and Richie Botti that went to the Morris County tournament finals and the North 1, Group 2 semifinals.
This year it has been Johnson’s show to run. He has scored 32 percent of Jefferson’s points this year and is averaging 20.2 points per game. With his height, Johnson can obviously be tough to stop in the paint, but also has deep range on his jump shot and is second on the Falcons with 32 3-pointers.
Despite the loss of a lot of talent, Johnson has helped Jefferson stay very relevant with a 19-6 record and the third seed in the upcoming state tournament. He has 11 games of at least 20 or more points this season, including a stretch of eight in nine games from Jan. 3 through Jan. 24.
“The season has definitely gone well,” Johnson said. “It was pretty disappointing to lose to Roxbury in the county tournament because we think we could have made it far. We know that going into states we definitely have a chance to win the whole thing if we can get past Pascack and Ramsey.”
Off the field, Johnson was nominated for the 2019 USA Football Heart of a Giant award. He got to go to the Quest Diagnostics Training Facility — home to the New York Giants — and got to meet Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich.
Academically, Johnson is a part of the National Honors Society, Spanish Honors Society, the Mathematics Honors Society and was the Boys State Delegate for Jefferson. He has also been a student council representative for four years, which is something that sticks out to him.
“It’s a place where we’re allowed to go with our ideas on anything we want to do,” Johnson said. “It’s really cool to be part of that.”
In the community, Johnson volunteers his time at local animal shelters and acts as a counselor at football and basketball camps. He will be attending Fairleigh Dickinson University and playing basketball.
“I just knew basketball is what I truly wanted to do,” Johnson said. “It’s been my love my entire life. It was one of my goals to play in college even when I was little. I narrowed it down to FDU because I really liked the coach and I was familiar with the school since my brother goes there. It was close to home for me. All of that kind of factored in.”