Johnnie Spears is up at 5:30 a.m. every morning.
He gets ready for school, hops in his car and makes the 15-minute drive from his home in Haverhill to Lawrence. From there, he boards a bus that takes him one hour away to South Hamilton, where he arrives at the Pingree School by 7:45 a.m.
“I don’t mind the commute,” said the 18-year-old Spears. “Going to Pingree was one of the best moves of my life.”
The folks at Pingree aren’t complaining, either.
Spears, who scored a remarkable 18 touchdowns in just six games last fall, is back as one of the lynchpins of Pingree’s highly skilled football team. The Highlanders begin their season tomorrow at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island, the first step in what they hope will end with another prep school Bowl championship.
Quite simply, Spears is the best North Shore football player you’ve probably never seen play live.
“When college coaches call asking about Johnnie, there’s one word I always use: electric,” Pingree head coach Chris Powers said. “When he touches the football, it’s just electric. He’s really fun to watch with the ball in his hands.”
Unique is also a good word to describe Spears. The senior captain isn’t big — 5-foot-8 and generously listed at 165 pounds — but he runs like a deer, can pack a wallop when he hits and has a football IQ, said Powers, that is off the charts for a high school player.
“Johnnie gets absolutely everything out of his ability,” said Pingree’s ninth-year head coach, who started the program a decade ago. “When he sets foot on that field he won’t ever take a single play off; that’s part of his special makeup.
“When I say Johnnie is quick, I don’t just mean forward and backward quick. He can be running in any direction and change, at full speed, without losing a step. It’s amazing.”