Senior staff writer
Southport High School career passing leader Lucas Johnston was known as “Luke” last year as a Cardinal. As a standout quarterback at Marian University, the 6-4 signal caller is known by his given name.
Does it really matter? Not to Johnston, who is slingin’ the football around the field even better than he ever did at Perry Stadium.
To Marian coach and 1993 Roncalli graduate Mark Henninger, Johnston is “a sneaky athlete.” Henninger explained that the freshman is physically gifted and that the intangibles of becoming a high-quality quarterback are surfacing with the Knights.
Johnston, whose collegiate football career is off to a phenomenal start, had completed passes for more than 300 yards in four of his first five games for the defending NAIA champions. He threw for multiple touchdowns in all five games.
He was at his best Saturday against Taylor during homecoming at St. Vincent Health Field. The lanky Johnston threw five touchdowns passes, completing 25-of-36 passes for 426 yards to four different receivers. He has completed 104-of-154 passes for 1,957 yards and 21 scoring strikes in six games for the undefeated No. 1-ranked Knights.
Johnston attributes his quick success to the Marian’s summer football camp.
“It was different at first because the receivers are so much faster than in high school,” Johnston said. “We were able to work together so everything has become more natural. We have built a rhythm between me and the receivers.”
Johnston’s adaptation to college life has been seamless with the exception of his first two weeks of classes when the classroom, football field and studying collided. He began to sort out the demands and improved his time management.
“This quadruples the amount of time I spent on high school homework,” he said. “There is a lot to do with so little time to do it.”
His goal at Marian is to continue the championship tradition.
Henninger says Johnston is developing as a leader and that his main asset is his coolness under pressure.
“He has a cool demeanor, nothing bothers him in the quarterback environment where you have to be somewhat cool and composed,” Henninger said. “He is incredibly accurate in throwing the football.”
Several Southsiders play for Marian, including sophomore defensive back David Diehl (Franklin Central), who had two tackles against Taylor; defensive lineman Joe Swan (Roncalli), one tackle against the Trojans; receiver Jimmie Walker Jr. and lineman Micah Brown, each from Southport; Christian Buchanan, Dylan Roth and Kyler White from Perry Meridian; Lewis Hibner (Roncalli); and Evan Higgs (Southport).
“The football that is being played all over our city, but particularly the Southside, has produced a lot of good players for us,” Henninger said. “The Southside has been good to us, and obviously they play a great level of football. And I believe the message and the type of university that Marian represents does resonate well with players here.”
Henninger returned to Roncalli Friday to see the Rebels defeat Decatur Central in a duel between two of the state’s top teams.
“It was so much fun to see coach (Bruce) Scifres having the success he’s having. Talking with him as coach to coach is a dream come true for me. He is a great football coach, a great person and great role model.”
Henninger played football for Wittenberg College before launching a coaching career that included several stops prior to landing at Marian in 2013. He is married and has three children.
Unfazed by inheriting a defending national championship trophy, Henninger guided the Knights to the NAIA title game in 2014 and then to their second national championship last year.
They have home games against Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.) Saturday and Concordia (Mich.) Oct. 29, each at 1 p.m., before their final two games on the road.