The joke among Herndon High athletic coaches this spring went: "How important was senior Barry Johnson to the school's football, basketball and soccer programs over the past four years?"

"It is hard to judge," goes the rhetorical response, "but does the fact that two of those head coaches have resigned mean anything?"

Although outgoing football coach Don Noll said he made up his mind to retire two years ago and basketball coach Todd Crowley resigned after purchasing a home that will enable him to transfer back to the Mount Vernon district, athletic life at Herndon without Johnson will be much different. The school's hallways will also be lacking without the always smiling and enthusiastic blond, 6-foot-4, 190-pounder.

From opening day of the football season in the fall to the final game of soccer in the spring, Johnson has been the key to the most profound era in Herndon athletic history.

He capped his career last weekend, scoring three goals in the Hornets' 5-0 victory over Freeman in Friday night's AAA state semifinal soccer game, and kicking in the only goal in the 1-0 championship game victory over Stonewall Jackson the following night.

In a time when three-sport athletes are rare because of the increased demands coaches stress for each individual sport, Johnson has not only played season to season, he has excelled. He will leave Herndon with 10 varsity letters -- four in soccer and three each in basketball and football. This year he was selected by Northern Region coaches to all-region teams in each sport.

Although Crowley and soccer coach Scott Mack believe Johnson could have earned full Division I scholarships in their sports if he pursued his potential, Johnson opted for an athletic grant from the University of Maryland.

Johnson was signed as a wide receiver, the position at which he caught 30 passes for 758 yards and nine touchdowns for the 11-1 Hornets last fall. He also kicked 25 of 26 extra points and a 48-yard field goal and hopes the Terrapins coaches will give him an opportunity to compete for the place-kicking chores.

"I would never say I have a favorite among the three sports," said Johnson, a striker who played on youth select soccer teams until his sophomore year in high school. "My favorite is the one I happen to be playing at the moment. I like each sport for different reasons, but mostly, I like competition.

"The decision to play football in college was simply because football offers more opportunity. All my life, my parents have been providing for me. This is an opportunity to get a free education. Beyond that, being a professional is a dream I have just like everybody else, and I would never even imagine getting a chance. But, in this country, there is really no future in professional soccer."

Johnson never played football at any level until his sophomore season, but his size, 4.6 speed at 40 yards and big-play desire helped make him all-region at split end and defensive back. The Great Falls District title the Hornets won in 1985 was their first football title ever at the AAA level.

He is the first to claim deficiencies on the basketball court, yet he averaged 14 points and nine rebounds. Although most comfortable at center, Johnson was occasionally moved to point guard by Crowley in an attempt to free Herndon's other outstanding athlete, Keith Moody, from heavy pressure.

In 1984-85, the Hornets won 15 games for the first time ever. This winter, they won the district regular-season title.

Johnson is probably most at home on the soccer field. The Raiders, his select team, helped Johnson collect 42 trophies. In his characteristic attempt to downplay his past achievements, the hardware is scattered, rather than displayed, around his bedroom.

After Johnson scored the game-winning goal to give Herndon the Virginia AAA soccer title, he had totaled 66 goals and had more than 100 assists as a striker for his school. He scored 27 goals and had 25 assists in this year's regular season.

"I have never seen a better all-around athlete," said Mack, who is also an assistant football coach. "He is a big, fast, intelligent kid who always works hard. But the thing about Barry is that you can always go to him when the team needs it."

Mack said Johnson is such a natural athlete that he could do anything well. Johnson immediately cites his close friend Moody as the school's best athlete, but the facts belie his attempt to downplay Mack's assessment.

Johnson rarely plays golf or bowls, but he has incredible beginner bests of 103 for 18 holes and a single-game 208 on the alleys.

Those numbers are among the few that stick in Johnson's memory.

"I am awful at keeping track of statistics," he said. "Statistics really don't matter because it is part a problem some people have separating cockiness with what I look at as confidence. You cannot do anything about statistics -- they are in the past . . . I am just interested in going out and doing the best I can at whatever I am doing. That is confidence."

Johnson admits he has hit periods where the endless seasons have tired him, but he has managed a 2.6 (out of 4.0) grade-point average.

"I never consider myself exhausted," he said. "I'm so busy in sports, and it has been such a major part of my life, that all I can let it do to me is be something I say thanks for. It has given me an opportunity to meet so many people.

"I don't know what I will study in college, but I think I would like to go into real estate. It would give me the same chance to keep meeting and helping new people, and it is the type of business good for people who like to talk . . . and I could talk endlessly."

Noll, a guidance counselor, grew very close to Johnson and tried to buffer him from recruiting pressures and media demands. He was impressed with Johnson's naivete, yet composure.

"This kid is right out of a storybook," said Noll. "He is every bit the good person he strikes someone as in a first impression. Yet, he does not know how talented he really is. He got a lot of pressure this year and handled it very well."

Part of Johnson's character is struck in discussing his grades. He is proud that his grades improved his senior year. Most people interpret "senioritis" as a slackening close to graduation. Not Johnson.

"I guess I had senioritis, where people start to work harder because they are scared college will be that much more difficult," he said.

Johnson's father, Paul, who played football at Maryland in 1959 and 1960, said he neither encouraged nor discouraged the youngest of his four children from athletics.

"Barry is his own person; he is very competitive and motivated by pressure," said Paul Johnson, a computers expert who owns a sporting goods store. "We only watched his grades. After that, we just enjoyed watching him play. As a family, we just learned to work our schedule around Barry's.

"He gets tired and, when he does, he might coast at something, but he is always ready when it counts. When he is tired, he is gone -- he might sleep 12 or 14 straight hours -- but then he is right back at it."

How will Herndon athletics adjust without Johnson?

"I guess he has made good coaches out of all us. Now we will have to find another way to get things done," said Mack. "It is not a pleasant thought."