O.J. Murdock's speed and Conshario Johnson's strength leave opponents with no good choices.
By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published October 22, 2004
TAMPA - The way Middleton quarterback Cedric Harris sees things, he couldn't have it much better.
At one receiver spot, the Tigers boast O.J. Murdock, arguably the county's fastest player. At the other, there's the versatile Conshario Johnson, who's not only a burner but the kind of athlete who doesn't mind doing the dirty work.
"You can't key on one person," Harris said.
The quarterback's pleasure is an opponent's pain.
Aided by the efforts of Murdock and Johnson, the Tigers are 5-1 entering tonight's district game at unbeaten Armwood, which is ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A state poll. Stopping the standout receivers, each of whom appears headed to a major college, hasn't been easy as they've combined for nine touchdown receptions and more than 1,000 yards.
"They each bring their own talents," coach Harry Hubbard said. Murdock's greatest asset is his speed. He says he runs the 40 in a blazing 4.31 seconds and he doesn't appear to be exaggerating. Murdock was third in the 100- and 200-meter dash at state track last spring. The year before, he was fourth in each event.
Neither Murdock nor his coach can recall the player ever being caught from behind.
"There's only so much that can be taught," Hubbard said. "The speed he has is a blessing from God."
Murdock has 30 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns. One score went for 67 yards.
"He's so fast, all the time I'm like, "How do you do it?"' Johnson said.
Murdock's stack of mail includes letters from just about every big-time program. He's pretty much narrowed his list of possible locales to Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami and Tennessee. Each has offered him a scholarship.
Murdock can stretch even the best defense. He's even effective without the ball. When defensive backs run his way, they leave open areas behind.
"I'm a big-time decoy," he said.
That would be Johnson, who's considering Alabama, Georgia and Louisville.
"If they key on O.J., we throw it to Conshario," Harris said.
Johnson's numbers include 28 catches for 460 yards and four touchdowns. He's the perfect complement to Murdock because, as he likes to say, "I'm real strong-willed to get the ball."
In other words, he isn't afraid to make the tough catches inside the hash marks. Harris has passed for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. And because linebackers and defensive backs often are transfixed on the receivers, holes are open for the running game.
For their part, Murdock and Johnson, who call themselves friends, say there's not even a hint of jealousy between them. Each helps the other at practice and pulls for him during games. The goal, they profess, isn't to out-do their teammate, but to leave defenses dazed and confused.