Basketball and soccer were the sports of preference for Javan Johnson when he was heading into middle school.

A foot injury led him to take up golf instead. So far, that’s worked out pretty well.

Now a junior, Johnson is one of the area’s top high school golfers and a big reason why Franklin has such lofty expectations heading into this season.

Johnson was the Grizzly Cubs’ top player a year ago, and he seemed to have a knack for saving his best performances for the biggest moments. He shot a 72 at the Southport Sectional to finish in a tie for fourth, and his 75 at the Providence Regional left him just one stroke short of a playoff to qualify for state.

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Franklin coach Andy Findley says that Johnson’s even-keel demeanor serves him well in pressure situations.

“He’s not going to choke,” Findley said. “The better the competition, the better he’ll play.”

“I just really enjoy the atmosphere of competing against other players,” Johnson added.

Johnson began playing golf around sixth grade, when plantar fasciitis dampened his prospects in soccer and basketball. He says that the summer between eighth grade and his freshman year is when he feels he started to blossom into the high-level player he has become.

“I think it was just putting the time in,” he said when asked what helped accelerate his improvement. “I really enjoyed it, so I kept trying to be the best I could.”

With top teammates Emerson Downing and Matt Jordan also back, Johnson has high hopes for the Grizzly Cubs the next two seasons. He’s also starting to think about his own playing career beyond high school.

Though he hasn’t narrowed down his college options yet, Johnson says that he’d “like to play the highest level I possibly could.”

If he continues trending upward over the second half of his time at Franklin, there’s no telling what level he might be able to reach.

Scouting Johnson County's boys golf teams

Center Grove Trojans

Coach: Matt Rodman

Last season: Won Johnson County, Southport Sectional and Providence Regional titles; finished third in state finals

Who’s back: Ethan Shepherd, senior; Noah Gillard and Sam Jean, juniors; Logan Anderson and Luke DeHaven, sophomores

Who’s gone: Tyler Rankel, Jackson Williams

Key newcomers: Alex Heck, Peyton Short and Caleb Tidd, freshmen

Outlook: Rodman, formerly the coach of Center Grove’s middle school team, inherits a group that figues to be in the mix for a state championship. The top three of Shepherd, Gillard and Jean all return, and finding reliable fourth and fifth options shouldn’t be difficult — Anderson and DeHaven both saw varsity action last season, and there could be some contributors in the freshman class as well.

Rodman says: “I’m definitely very excited to have the chance to coach this group of boys again and see what we can do this year. … (A state title is) exactly the bar that we’re setting.”

Edinburgh Lancers

Coach: Doug Weddle

Last season: Fifth at Johnson County meet; 10th in Southport Sectional

Who’s back: Bladen Hancock, sophomore

Who’s gone: Kyle Pendleton, Zach Pendleton, Jacob Riddle, Gabe Wilson

Outlook: Weddle is keeping expectations modest with just one player back from last year’s sectional lineup. Hancock figures to be in the No. 1 spot at the outset, but the coach hopes to find a pleasant surprise or two among his newcomers. The Lancers will still have enough bodies to score as a team; anything that can be accomplished on top of that will be a bonus.

Weddle says: “I know it’s going to be a rough year with only having one returning player. … They won’t be very good, especially at the beginning of the year, but hopefully they’ll show improvement as the year goes on.”

Franklin Grizzly Cubs

Coach: Andy Findley

Last season: Second in Johnson County; third in Southport Sectional; eighth at Providence Regional

Who’s back: Kade Edwards, senior; Javan Johnson and Matt Jordan, juniors; Emerson Downing and Blake McIntyre, sophomores

Who’s gone: Blake Andrews and Kodi Duncan

Outlook: Longtime assistant and former Martinsville head coach Findley inherits a strong club that advanced to the regional a year ago and returns its top three players in Johnson, Jordan and Downing. If Edwards and McIntyre can deliver consistently, the Grizzly Cubs should be able to push their way into the top five at the regional and challenge for a state berth.

Findley says: “Our top five is definitely pretty solid. We’re not going to be as deep as we were last year. … We’ve got a chance to get to state.

Greenwood Woodmen

Coach: Mike Young

Last season: Third at Johnson County meet; sixth in Southport Sectional

Who’s back: Hayden Hardesty and Jaden Hornbeak, seniors; Chris Ashmore and Eric Moenkhaus, juniors

Outlook:  In Moenhkaus, Hardesty and Hornbeak, the Woodmen have a solid nucleus that puts them in position to contend for a top-three spot in the sectional. The key will be finding a fourth player to consistently deliver a quality score. Young is hoping that either an improved Ashmore or one of the incoming freshmen can fill that role.

Young says: “We’re still looking for that fourth score, but if I’ve got anybody that can get that fourth score, we may have a shot at making a regional run this year.”

Greenwood Christian Cougars

Coach: Jim Davis

Last season: Finished 11th at Southport Sectional

Who’s back: Alec Elmore and Daniel Witte, seniors; Michael Gaunce and Gavin McCabe, juniors

Who’s gone: Destin Schreiner and Jared Torp

Key newcomers: Cayden Bauschek, junior; Gabe Vessely, freshman

Outlook: With only six golfers, GCA is still in the process of building its program, but between top returnees Elmore and McCabe and rookies Bauschek and Vessely, the Cougars should have enough firepower to compete with the small-school teams on their schedule.

Davis says: “Our first year in the sectional we finished last; last year, we beat two teams. So we improved a little bit, and this year I’m hoping for a bit more from them.”

Indian Creek Braves

Coach: Bob Smith

Last season: Fourth in Johnson County; seventh in Southport Sectional

Who’s back: Riley Day, Chandler Donahue, Vincent Greene, Cohnor Park and Scott Russell, sophomores;

Who’s gone: Noah Kinser and Max Pugh

Key newcomers: Isaiah Claycomb, junior; Jarod Ball, Dakota Day and Hunter Ellis, freshmen

Outlook: Park, an all-conference pick last season in the Mid-Hoosier Conference, is one of five returning lettermen on a very young Braves team into its first year in the Western Indiana Conference. Day could also potentially play his way up to the top of the lineup before long.

Smith says: “We’re young — I have no seniors — and we feel that with the new conference that we’re in that we can challenge in conference. We’re excited about building a good program.”

Whiteland Warriors

Coach: Dan Gibson

Last season: Sixth in Johnson County; ninth in Southport Sectional

Who’s back: Evan Bunton and Simon Grills, juniors; Levi Griffith and Max Pressler, sophomores

Who’s gone: Cody Bullock, Nick Oldham

Key newcomers: James Craigmiles and Isaac Ebeyer, juniors; Brady Brewer, Jacob Johnson and Zach Ricketts, freshmen

Outlook: The slow process of building a program continues under second-year coach Gibson, who saw major improvement from the few players he had last year. The Warriors have increased numbers this spring and finally have a home course at The Legends, where they will host seven regular-season matches. Gibson is optimistic that his players can lower their scores enough to contend for a top-five sectional finish.

Gibson says: “I don’t think that we’re going to scare anybody off or be a state contender, but I think teams that play Whiteland this year are going to see an improvement. … Golf’s never been a culture sport (here), but we’re trying to change that.”

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.