At 5 feet 7 and about 150 pounds, D’Andre Johnson is one of the smallest players on Quince Orchard’s football team. On the practice field, when Johnson is in the shadows of mammoth standout linebackers Marcus Newby and Tyrell Williams, he simply looks like he doesn’t belong.

Johnson has always been about 15 feet tall for the fourth-ranked Cougar’s program, though. He’s one of a few players at the school who will start both ways in Friday night’s opener at Sherwood – at wide receiver and cornerback – and he also takes snaps at running back.

But perhaps where he is most feared is in the kicking game. Johnston torched the Warriors on a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown in last season’s opener. The return came with just over a minute left in the first half, breaking open a close game and giving Quince Orchard steam in an important 23-6 win.

“Our program thrives on guys like Dre. He’s a guy that when you look at him, he’s a smaller, undersized guy but he brings so much toughness and attitude in a 150-pound body,” Quince Orchard Coach Dave Mencarini said. “He changed the Sherwood game last year, and he changed multiple games on offense, defense and special teams. I hope they kick him the ball.”

Mencarini has never beaten Sherwood on the road – and much of the talk surrounding Friday’s matchup between these two longstanding rivals has centered on the returning strength of both defenses, which return eight starters apiece. Sherwood will have to remedy mistakes made in last season’s opener, which included 17 penalties and not covering Johnson well enough in punt coverage.         

At Quince Orchard, it’s easy to see how the soft-spoken Johnson falls between the cracks, considering the buzz surrounding players like Newby (a Nebraska recruit) and Williams. But following last season’s crushing overtime loss to Old Mill in the Maryland 4A championship game, Johnson felt the weight of the loss as much as any other player during the offseason. The fact that Old Mill overcame a three-touchdown deficit and won on a two-point conversion was disturbing. He had personal goals in mind for his senior season; he wanted to score in all three phases of the game, including an interception return for a touchdown. But ultimately, to be a true utility man, he had to lead during preseason conditioning.   

“When you’re close to failure, and you can’t get the last rep up in the weight room,” said Johnson, “all we think about is the last few yards that we didn’t finish with last year, and that’s our motivation.”

Mencarini said that he refuses to let last year’s state championship loss at M&T Bank Stadium control the 2012 Quince Orchard narrative. But he told his team this week that the immediate past will dictate Friday’s opener against Sherwood – specifically that “the game was won and lost on Monday.”

“At this point, I can’t worry about what happened in Ravens Stadium,” said Mencarini, reflecting on last season’s state title loss. “I will say: We will play until there’s no time left on the clock. We’ve learned it the right way, and the wrong way.”