There's the comic strip, TV and movie character Batman and there's the Batman that stars on the Archbishop Spalding football team.
Darren "Batman" Johnson, a muscular 6-foot-3, 175-pound junior, has become an impact player at running back and linebacker in Spalding's quest of two consecutive winning seasons.
The Batman moniker was put on Johnson when he was an 8-year-old playing youth football for the Severn Athletic Club. It has stuck while would-be tacklers have not.
His shifty, slippery, power running along with his bone rattling tackles have made the 4-2 Cavaliers' highlights film practically every week this season.
Spalding's 6-4 record last year matched the 1987 season under coach Gary Lyle, and was only the second winning season in the school's football history that began in 1984. The ten wins in the past two seasons are more than the total they had in four previous seasons.
Second-year coach John Moscato has his sites set not only on an encore winning season, but a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) B Conference title and the 16-year-old junior is a key figure in such lofty, but not unrealistic goals.
Going into Friday's 7: 30 p.m. home game against Archbishop Curley (2-4, 0-4), the Cavaliers are 3-0 in the MIAA B, tied for first with No. 9 McDonogh (5-0, 3-0).
The meat of Spalding's schedule is ahead. McDonogh, St. Paul's (4-1, 2-1) and John Carroll (4-1, 2-1) ranked No. 12 and 13 respectively, are Spalding's final three opponents.
"We've got a shot," said Moscato. "Batman has made quite an impression in his first varsity season after a great year on our frosh-soph team. He's the real thing."
Johnson, a key member of the school's basketball team his first two years in high school, Johnson did not play football until last season when he led the underclassman team with 16 touchdowns.
Moscato could see that Johnson had talent, but chose to let him develop with a nucleus that is now an important part of the varsity.
In six games, Johnson, the tailback in the Cavaliers' Denver Broncos' style off-set I formation, has run for 751 yards and nine touchdowns on 94 carries. His personal best for a game was 228 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-7 season-opening win over Pallotti, but his most recent game wasn't too shoddy.
Saturday he rambled for two touchdowns and 197 yards rushing in only the second ever win for the Cavaliers over Severn (1-4, 0-3) by 27-6. Johnson, who covers the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, burned the Admirals for touchdown jaunts of 75 and 27 yards.
"That was a big win because of our rivalry with Severn," said Johnson, who resides in Glen Burnie. "We're gaining more confidence each week.
"Opposing teams are keying on me, but we have other people to step up and that's got us believing we can win it [the conference]."
Among those stepping up is his basketball backcourt partner James Bowen (6 foot, 175 pounds), who ran for 70 yards and had a 47-yard punt return for six points in the victory over Severn.
Bowen is no doubt very important to Johnson who has in the words of Moscato become "a great big public target."
"Batman's presence allows the others like Bowen to run the ball for big gains and big plays," said Moscato.
Moscato describes his star back as having the perfect combination of power and speed.
"When he [Johnson] drops his shoulder and puts his power forward, he can run over three or four players. He also cuts very well and when he turns the corner on a sweep, it's over."
On defense, Johnson makes up for his inexperience with his talent, speed an penchant for delivering punishing hits.
Johnson believes he can play cornerback at the next level if he doesn't get a chance to take handoffs or catch passes. He prefers football, but is not ruling out basketball in college.
The recruiting game is just around the corner for Johnson. "I'm sure it's going to happen [college recruiting] for him in football," said Moscato. "He's legitimate."
And if it comes down to choosing between football and basketball?
Johnson figures to take the advice of family friend and former Old Mill all-county wide receiver (1983), Eldridge Anderson, who convincingly says, "he's a better football player."
Pub Date: 10/13/98