The Cromwell-Wright football team has picked up right where it left off last year -- fast, powerful and undefeated in the regular season. Behind running back Nic Johnson, the Cardinals are once again soaring to the top in 9-man football.
"We feel good about every game," said Johnson. "We definitely feel the momentum and try to get better with every game, just like we did last year."
The Cardinals made it to the MSHSL state semifinal game last season thanks to an older roster that was led by quarterback Zion Smith. For Johnson, guys like Smith paved the path for his success.
"Everything they told me I listened to and bottled up," said Johnson. "I still talk to Zion about what I need to do to improve and lead this team."
The Cardinals this season are among the state's best in points per game despite having just two seniors. Johnson is one of them and it's his meticulous planning as a running back that has the Cardinals unbeaten through five games.
"I take pride in just being able to see the pocket and see the hole," said Johnson. "Being able to know which way I am going before I run. I try to find the hole, find the different lanes that I can maneuver."
Johnson, in fact, has only played five career games at running back. Last season, he was a wide receiver, but head coach Jeff Gronner wanted him in the backfield so he can get more touches.
"He's a talented guy. He's an explosive guy," said Gronner. "Being in the backfield allows him to be more involved in the offense."
That has translated to seemingly long run after long run, and ultimately a top-10 state ranking in 9-man football.
While Johnson has the football mind, what really makes him dangerous is his breakaway speed.
"Pretty much every time he touches the ball, it's like lightning," said Cardinals junior tight end Kannon Korpela. "Real fast, fastest I've ever known. He's real smart when he's got the ball and he knows what he's doing on the field."
"Athletically, he's the best athlete I've ever coached," said Gronner. "He just has that extra gear that no one else has."
Johnson wasn't always this fast, though. He's originally from St. Cloud, Minnesota and against bigger competition down there, Johnson learned that being slow doesn't work on the gridiron.
"I wasn't the fastest growing up. In St. Cloud, it was a bigger school and bigger competition," said Johnson. "That really pushed me to be able to run faster because I didn't want to be the slowest."
Johnson transferred to Cromwell-Wright as a freshman. Since then, he's had a simple mindset when it comes to speed.
"If you can catch me, I'm not fast enough."
That kind of attitude has the Cardinals taking flight in 2017.