D’Ernest Johnson, other locals shine in Orlando Apollos triumph

Though the annals of the Orlando Apollos remain thinner than a leaflet, a handful of former bay area prep and college standouts now are immortalized in them.

On a night of pageantry and precipitation, those locals can rightfully say they had historic ― if not significant ― roles in the Alliance of American Football franchise’s inaugural game, a 40-6 victory against the Atlanta Legends.

None stood out more prominently than former USF tailback D’Ernest Johnson. The Bulls’ career leader in all-purpose yardage (4,186), Johnson had five carries for 35 yards, and sprung out of the backfield for a 33-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

“Man, it just feels good,” said Johnson, who was working as a personal trainer in Gainesville when the Apollos contacted him in December. “You can’t take this game for granted. It just feels good being back out here, pulling pads on, man. Long time coming.”

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Johnson, whose son turns 4 later this month, stood as a rushing, returning, receiving example of the league’s stated purpose: giving players who have fallen short of their NFL aspirations the opportunity to compete professionally.

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Johnson participated in a three-day Saints mini-camp, and tried to hook up with Houston’s franchise in the fledgling American Patriot League, but received no follow-up phone calls. Similarly, former Bulls tight end Sean Price attended three camps (Packers, Ravens, Ottawa of the Canadian Football League), but didn’t make a roster.

“(The AAF) is wonderful, man,” said Price, working as a trainer at a military installation in Colorado Springs before making the Apollos roster.

“It gets you off the couch, gives you some time to get back and re-live that dream you’ve always wanted to play. There are so many talented athletes in Florida, Georgia…and it’s kind of tough when the NFL and the CFL are your only outlets.”

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Orlando Apollos’ Leon Orr (93) tracks down Atlanta Legends running back Tarean Folston (26) on a rushing play during the first half of an AAF football game Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Other bay area products making history included former Blake High standout Ryan Davis, who was credited with the first sack in Apollos history.

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Davis, former Gators and Gulf High defensive tackle Leon Orr (five tackles), Armwood alumnus Aaron Evans (left tackle) and former USF four-year starting offensive lineman Quinterrius Eatmon (right tackle) all were part of Orlando’s inaugural starting lineup.

Less dazzling in his debut was Plant alumnus Aaron Murray. The former record-setting Georgia quarterback, beaten out by Matt Simms for the Legends starting job, entered on Atlanta’s final drive and was intercepted on his last throw. Murray went 4-for-7 for 38 yards on the drive.

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