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Injured Sunlake LB/FB Xavier Johnson showing improvement

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Mon. July 13, 2015 | Kelly Parsons

Injured Sunlake LB/FB Xavier Johnson showing improvement

After 57 days at St. Joseph’s Hospital following a jet ski accident, Sunlake linebacker and fullback Xavier Johnson will likely be transferred this week to a rehabilitation hospital in Jacksonville, Seahawks coach Bill Browning said Monday.

Johnson was tubing with fellow Sunlake teammate Tyler Peretti on May 16 when he sustained a severe head injury. Johnson was placed in a medically-induced coma the next day, while Peretti was released with a leg injury and minor abrasions.

And though it may not be happening as fast as his family and friends would like it to, Browning said, Johnson’s condition has been improving in the past several weeks. 

Browning, who visited with the Johnson family for a few hours Sunday, said he has been encouraged by Johnson’s progress since the accident. Now out of the coma, Johnson can track with his eyes, respond to questions and give a thumbs up, his father has reported on social media.

“I mean, really, what that young man is going through right now, it puts life in a real new perspective, that’s for sure,” Browning said. “You take so much for granted in life until it’s taken away from you.”

Johnson, 16, started on both sides of the ball as a sophomore at Sunlake last season, recording 11 tackles, two for loss, and a sack. Before its spring game against Hernando on May 22, Sunlake ran out onto the field through a banner that read ‘This one’s for you X.’ They started the game with just 10 defenders on the field, leaving the 11th spot empty in honor of Johnson.

Browning said the team has been holding up well in Johnson’s absence, but that he’s never been far from his teammates’ minds during summer workouts.

“He’s such an important part of our football team,” he said. “He was a well-respected teammate. … He’s a great kid as far as leading by example.”

Since the accident, the community has shown vast support for Johnson and his family, raising more than $14,000 on a GoFundMe site to help pay for medical expenses. Johnson’s father, Ross Johnson, a pastor at Gathering Pointe Church in Land O Lakes, has posted daily updates on Facebook about his son’s progress, and local celebrities — including former Buccaneers defensive back Ronde Barber — have sent video or photo messages expressing "get well" wishes.

In addition, a 5K fundraiser, The Warrior Run, has been scheduled for Aug. 8 at Lake Park in Lutz, with the registration fees going toward Johnson’s continued medical care.

In the meantime, Browning said he and the Seahawks will continue to support their teammate. 

“He is definitely a fighter and a mentally tough kid,” Browning said. “He’s exhibited all those traits that have helped him up to this point.”

Photo: Before the start of the Sunlake at Hernando spring football game, the Sunlake Seahawks burst through a banner that says "This one's for you X" in honor of teammate Xavier Johnson. 

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