Talented tandem

Quentin Johnston (left) and Anthony Jackson totaled 31 touchdowns last season and are Temple’s biggest playmakers.

With the Temple Wildcats returning only one defensive starter this season, a popular opinion is that their experienced offense must do the heavy lifting while a new-look defense of mostly unproven commodities attempts to solidify into a reliable unit.

Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen. But if Temple’s forced into having to win some high-scoring battles, it’s very comforting for the Wildcats to know they have running back Anthony Jackson and wide receiver Quentin Johnston on their side.

Two of Temple’s most dynamic offensive players in recent history, Jackson and Johnston scored a combined 31 touchdowns as juniors last season and were first-team All-District 12-6A selections for the Wildcats.

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Jackson used explosive acceleration and elusiveness to produce 936 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns — 13 rushing scores, a 40-yard TD reception and a 100-yard kickoff return.

The 6-4, 190-pound Johnston, who committed to Texas earlier this month, employed a high-leaping, smooth-striding style as he blazed onto the varsity scene with 16 touchdown receptions that averaged a staggering 35.9 yards, including eight scores in his first three games.

Regardless of how quickly Temple’s defense develops, Jackson and Johnston want to continue leaving defenders in their wake while leading the Wildcats back to postseason glory after last season disappointing first-round exit.

“The defense is going to come together. Offense, let’s light up the scoreboard and let the defense bring them up,” said Jackson, whose 15 touchdowns last season averaged 30.5 yards. “That’s the whole goal. Once they find themselves, we’ll be a very hard team to stop.”

Johnston said that although last season’s quarterback (Jared Wiley) graduated, he’s seen enough from new senior starting QB Vance Willis to be confident that the Wildcats’ offense will keep humming.

“It’s just knocking the rust off from freshman year,” Johnston said. “Vance and Anthony have played together since middle school, then freshman year was a good year passing for us.”

Even though Jackson and Johnston don’t play the same position, they admire each other’s skill set.

“He motivates me, especially with his speed,” Johnston said of Jackson, 18-5A’s top offensive newcomer in 2017 after rushing for a team-best 938 yards with seven touchdowns. “I can jump and run routes, but his speed is unmatched. Coming up from seventh grade to freshman year to now, I’ve been looking up to him and trying to match him.”

Jackson said Johnston “makes it look easy.” But despite the receiver’s freakish physical abilities, it’s his character that impresses Jackson most.

“From watching him in the recruiting process, having classes with him and talking outside of football, he’s a great person overall,” Jackson said. “I learn a lot from him.”

Whereas Jackson played in a third-round playoff win over Port Arthur Memorial as a freshman and emerged as a sophomore, Johnston was behind several older receivers and waited until his junior season for an opportunity to shine and wasted no time.

Combining exceptional jumping ability and body control with breakaway speed, Johnston had four touchdown catches in a scrimmage and made four long-distance scoring receptions — 55, 55, 29 and 71 yards — in Temple’s season-opening win.

“Going into the scrimmage and first game, it was all nerves,” he said. “But when I got that first touchdown and first hit, my nerves went away.”

Johnston caught two touchdowns in each of the next two games and tallied three TDs against rival Belton, including a 25-yard grab in triple overtime to give the Wildcats a 58-55 victory.

“Including the scrimmage, the first four things he did as a junior was he scored 11 touchdowns, so he had pretty quick success,” Temple coach Scott Stewart said. “By the end of the year, everybody knew who he was. He handled it well. He’s very mature.

“What jumps off the page about Quentin is his demeanor. When he commits himself to something, he’s all-in. He’s very hard on himself. It’s uncommon for a teenager to have that hyper-focus. To watch him in his element is impressive.”

Johnston’s production slowed as defenses paid him increased attention, but he still made eight TD catches in Temple’s final eight games to compile 45 receptions for 923 yards.

“I had close to 1,000 yards. That’s not the No. 1 goal, but it would be nice to get there,” said Johnston, also a standout basketball player and high jumper. “As far as being a teammate, I need to work on blocking. That sets up big plays.”

His coach concurred.

“When you talk about speed, elevation, body control, hands and route-running, the dude’s a 10 across the board,” Stewart said. “So it’s hard to say, ‘Well, he stinks at blocking because he’s a 7.’”

While Johnston picked Texas over numerous other high-profile suitors, Jackson’s being recruited by Lamar, Incarnate Word and Angelo State. After forming a potent 1-2 punch with De’Jon Overton the last two seasons, Jackson’s aiming this year to reach the 1,500-yard and 20-touchdown marks.

When Mesquite Horn’s defensive tactics limited his rushing opportunities in the bi-district loss, Jackson contributed an electrifying 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter to tie it before the Jaguars prevailed.

His vibrant personality sets the tone for his squad.

“Anthony’s the most personable kid. He’ll talk to that lamp,” Stewart said. “He thrives in the team setting. He genuinely loves being a Temple Wildcat and what comes with that. He loves hard and plays hard.”

Jackson spoke for himself and Johnston when he stated their primary goal.

“For the young guys coming up, we want to leave this place better than we found it,” he said.