KENNEWICK, Wash. — Johnny Jansen wasn't really on Tim Maher's radar in the spring of 2010 when he stopped by for a chat with Kamiakin's longtime defensive coordinator.
All that changed with one conversation.
"He said, 'Coach, I'm going to be a linebacker for you this year,' " Maher said. "As a young sophomore, he hadn't said two words to me, but he came in and said, 'I'm going to be a player for you. I'm going to get it done.'
"And he did."
Did he ever. As a first-year junior starter, Jansen topped 100 tackles, was the team's best coverage 'backer, earned second-team all-conference honors and was a key player on a defense that helped the Braves reach the Class 3A state semifinals.
"Once you say something like that," Jansen said with a chuckle, "you can't go back."
Don't expect Jansen to back down from his role on this team as one of three returning starters on defense, and one of the seniors determined not to let the Braves let up after reaching the state title game and semifinals the last two years.
"You have to keep having goals," he said. "Last year, I kept my starting spot. This year, I want to be (first-team) all-conference and follow in the footsteps of Oord and Zach and Trevor Powers."
Indeed, like those seniors he played with last season -- Drew Oord and Zach Umemoto were both two-year first-teamers -- it now falls to Jansen to be the senior who teaches the new guys how to play defense the Kamiakin way. And, according to Maher, juniors like Sterling Farrah and Thomas Kirk couldn't ask for a better leader.
"He played at the level of the other two all-conference linebackers," Maher said. "He's a phenomenal leader and an extension of the coaching staff on the field."
Maher is so impressed with Jansen, he invoked the holy trinity of Kamiakin linebackers -- Ron Childs, Al Genatone and Scott Davis, three guys who were three-year starters and went on to be three-year starters and captains at Washington State.
Now, make no mistake. Maher isn't saying Jansen is the next one of those guys. For one, at 6-foot and 185 pounds, Jansen doesn't quite have the build of a Division I linebacker. Also, baseball may well be in his future, as well as dentistry of all things.
But Maher said Jansen's determination reminds him of those guys.
"It's a great honor," Jansen said of following in the line of great linebackers that include guys like Matt Minnich, Logan Booth and Maxx Garrett. "Maher's a great coach, and he's coached a lot of great players. It's a great privilege."
Jansen is used to following in big footsteps. He grew up trying to keep up with older brother Joey, who quarterbacked the Braves two years ago and this year will be a sophomore on the Oregon State baseball team.
But Johnny has one thing Joey doesn't -- a state title, after he started for Kamiakin's championship baseball team last spring.
"I was always trying to beat him," he said.
Jansen will be busy on both sides of the ball this fall. After growing up playing quarterback and then playing a little tight end last season, he will take over for Umemoto as the No. 1 ball carrier.
And he already knows what he'll do the first time he reaches the end zone: "Act like I've been there before," he said.
Sounds like a man with a plan. And now, like his coaches, everyone knows it.