Ridgeland senior Daniel Johnson, already the Georgia state male winner of the Wendy's High School Heisman Award, will head to New York City early next month as one of 12 national finalists for the prestigious honor.
Six senior male and six senior female student-athletes were selected as national finalists out of more than 45,000 seniors who applied for the award.
Johnson was informed of the honor during a surprise assembly at the school this past Thursday morning.
"I just want to say thanks to my parents, the football team, the baseball team, and all the coaches who've helped me," Johnson said while addressing the student body. "It really just shows what a great school we've got here, all the resources we have, and all the opportunities that are afforded to us. We're really lucky to be at a school so great."
Created in 1994, Wendy's High School Heisman honors top senior student-athletes based on athletic, academic, and community service.
In addition to being a captain on both the football and baseball teams at Ridgeland, Johnson is a 4.0 student in the Ridgeland Honors Academy, a member of the National Honor Society and the Future Business Leaders of America. The Student Government president was also selected for the state's Governor's Honors Program.
This past January, he added to his impressive resume by being one of just two Georgians selected to participate in the United States Senate Youth Program.
"This might be one of the biggest awards any high school student can get," Ridgeland head football coach Mark Mariakis said. "You're talking about more than 45,000 kids that applied, and only 12 are named national finalists. It's just a testament to the hard work he's put in, and it's a testament to the programs here at Ridgeland. It's something good for everybody."
"This is breathtaking," Johnson added. "I never thought I had much of a chance, so it's humbling when you think of all the great student-athletes in the state and the country that was up for this award, and I'm one of the final six. I'm just ready to go to New York.
"I was really surprised when they announced it because nobody told me. I thought (teammate) Vonn (Bell) was signing today or something and he didn't tell me about it, so, yeah, I was really surprised when I found out."
Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines said Thursday was a big day for Johnson and the school system as a whole.
"It means a lot to Daniel, and that's where it starts," he explained. "We're excited for what he's achieving on a daily basis. As for the school and the school system, it's amazing to see what our kids can do if we set the expectations and standards high. We want to do everything we can to push the kids to that point, and he really exemplifies that.
"I'm really proud to see him stand up in front of his peer group and talk about what you can do if you just listen and do what you're supposed to do. We're excited for him and extremely proud of him."
Johnson, along with the 11 other national finalists, will be featured on the Wendy's High School Heisman Award ceremony on Dec. 9 on ESPN2, and he will be presented with his national finalist awards by former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, the only two-time winner of the college Heisman Trophy.
Johnson will also get to meet several other former Heisman winners during his trip, something he was excited about getting to do.
"I'm going to get to meet Herschel Walker, Mark Ingram, Robert Griffin III, and guys like that," he said. "Wow. It's going to be amazing."
The national finalists will participate in the Wendy's High School Heisman Weekend, including the National Awards Banquet in New York City. Each national finalist will receive a gold medal, a Heisman patch, and a $100 gift card to Wendy's, while their high schools will receive a $2,000 award in their name.
Of the final 12, one male and one female will be named as National High School Heisman winners. They will receive a trophy, a patch, a $500 gift card, and will be honored and recognized during the ESPN national telecast of the college Heisman Trophy presentation. In addition, that student's school will receive a $10,000 award.
"What you see is what you get with Daniel," Mariakis added. "He's something special in the classroom, in the community, and on the playing fields. His future is so bright. He has goals in mind and great family support at home. But in turn he's very humble and supports every kid at this school and that's what makes him so special."
Bauer wins school award
Fellow senior Megan Bauer was also recognized at the assembly as the girls’ Heisman winner for Ridgeland High School.
Bauer, who plays soccer for the Lady Panthers, is also a 4.0 student in the Ridgeland Honors Academy. She serves as vice president of the school’s FBLA club and secretary for the school’s chapters of the National Honor Society and the National Honor Society for Science.