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Johnson eyes Camden's first title since 1976

Rather than close his eyes and make a wish on his 18th birthday, Ron Johnson is going to pursue his prize with all his speed and strength.

Camden defensive end Ron Johnson.
Camden defensive end Ron Johnson.Read more(Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

Rather than close his eyes and make a wish on his 18th birthday, Ron Johnson is going to pursue his prize with all his speed and strength.

"I never won a championship," Johnson said. "That's what I want for my birthday."

Johnson, a tight end/defensive end and Michigan recruit, will lead Camden into the South Jersey Group 3 championship game against Delsea at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Rowan University.

Delsea will be seeking its fourth straight sectional crown, an unprecedented feat for a South Jersey public team above the Group 1 level.

Camden (9-2) and its birthday boy have grand designs of their own - the Panthers' first title since 1976.

"That's been the thing that's been driving us all year," said Johnson, who will turn 18 on Saturday. "We want to bring a title back to the city."

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Johnson has put together a strong senior season. He is second on the team to linebacker Dymelle Parker with 98 tackles and tops on the squad in tackles for loss with seven.

Johnson also has forced two fumbles and recovered three.

Beyond the statistics, Johnson has emerged as a confident team leader, according to Camden coach Dwayne Savage.

"Ron has taken on the responsibility of being the leader of the team," Savage said. "He's the guy I go to to get the other guys going.

"He's one of the main reasons we're in the position we're in, to be playing for a championship, because he refuses to lose and he's never won a championship."

Johnson said he briefly considered trying to graduate early from Camden and enrolling at Michigan in January.

He decided against that, but will be busy in the new year as he plans to play in the Semper Fi All-American Game Jan. 3 in Carson, Calif., as well as the International Bowl Jan. 31 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Camden senior wide receiver/defensive back Brad Hawkins, also a Michigan recruit, will play in the Semper Fi All-American game, too.

Johnson committed last week to play for USA Football's Under-19 team in the International Bowl against Team Canada.

"I'm friends with Naseir Upshur and he's going to play," Johnson said of the star tight end for Philadelphia Public League power Imhotep. "We're going to show the Canadians that we're serious about football."

Delsea (10-1) beat Camden, 25-19, in Week 2 but Johnson believes the Panthers have improved.

Camden has won six in a row since a 21-16 loss to Camden Catholic on Oct. 9.

"We're a lot better team than we were in September," Johnson said. "We're more together, everybody doing their part."

Johnson said Saturday's game will have extra meaning for him for two reasons: It will mark his last time wearing the purple and gold for Camden, and it will occur on his birthday.

"It's crazy how fast high school went past," Johnson said. "All we've talked about for years was winning a championship, winning a championship.

"Now we have the chance and it's on my birthday. I'm going to go out there and go crazy."