Rich Johnson: Standout Both On And Off The Field


March 06, 1991|By Ed McDonough

Something about Ursinus (Pa.) College brought out the best in Rich Johnson.

In 1981, the Western Maryland College football player booted a school-record 51-yard field goal.

Two years later, against that same school, he set or tied severalmore marks -- most points in a game (24), most catches in a game (15) and most receiving yards in a game (209).

Memories of those outstanding performances no doubt returned for many Western Maryland football fans when they learned last week of Johnson's death at the too-young age of 28. A blood vessel in his brain burst Feb. 16 during a family skiing trip in Champion, Pa., and he died Feb. 26 at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh.

It's one of those stories where the good guy dies at an all-too-early age.

It starts with a soccer and baseball player at Severna Park High in Anne Arundel County, who, in his senioryear, switches to football. Usually, soccer players who switch to football just kick, but Johnson had enough athletic ability to play as a wide receiver, too.

He moved on to Western Maryland, where he impressed his coaches not only with his ability, but also with his competitiveness and off-field demeanor.

"The biggest thing I remember is his intensity," said WMC head baseball and assistant football coach Dave Seibert, who attended the funeral Monday in Baltimore. "But the thing I remember most about him off the field is that he was a realfriend to everybody."

Aside from his football exploits, Johnson was a standout on the diamond, too. He is 12th on the school's all-time hitting list with a .333 career batting average.

He brought other qualities to that sport, as well.

"He was the captain of my 1984team that won the Middle Atlantic Conference title," Seibert said ofhis baseball squad. "That was my best team ever."

Two of Johnson's former baseball teammates -- fellow Severna Park graduate Dan Fielder and ex-Green Terrors first baseman Jeff Weyer -- were at the funeral. Johnson, in fact, continued to play baseball on an unlimited teamin the Baltimore area with Fielder.

Seibert also said Johnson kept in close contact, staying up-to-date on the exploits of the WMC teams.

He lived in the Baltimore County community of Rodgers Forge with his wife, the former Stacy Ruppersberger, who is expecting their first child. Johnson -- who was active in the Rodgers Forge community,playing Santa and the Easter Bunny at neighborhood events -- would have made a wonderful father.

Johnson was an account executive for Chamison Brokerage Co., a food brokerage, and was a member of the Hunt Valley Country Club. In addition to his wife, he is survived by hisfather, Ejner J. Johnson Sr., who was chief of staff for Gov. Harry R. Hughes, and his mother, Grace Johnson, both of Severna Park, alongwith three sisters and a brother.

WMC has started a memorial fundin his name, but Sports Information director Scott Deitch said details on the fund still are being worked out.


The area has had one other recent passing of note in the sports arena.

Ronald D. Selby Sr. of Union Bridge passed away earlier in February. He was activein several athletic groups, including the Union Bridge Recreation Council's youth baseball program.

His son, Ronald Jr., graduated last year from Francis Scott Key, where he was active in athletics.

Just as members of the WMC community feel a sense of loss with Johnson's death, so do members of the recreation sports community in the northwest section of Carroll.

Both Johnson and Selby were a credit tosports. Both will be missed.

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