Article, 2009 Season - Ohlone College Renegades Men's Baseball

Former Cal High players are twin towers of power

By Kyle Bonagura, Staff writer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009—Reprinted from Contra Costa Times.

Zach and Jeff Johnson pose for the camera.Zach (left) and Jeff Johnson at Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif., on Wednesday, May 6, 2009. The brothers took three years off from baseball but are back at Ohlone College where they are star players on the states No. 1 ranked junior college team. —Jim Stevens/staff photo.

For Jeff and Zach Johnson, life had always been about baseball.

So when the twin brothers found themselves working on-and-off for their mother, doing odd jobs at Blackhawk Plastic Surgery last year, it wasn't the situation they envisioned when they graduated from California High in 2006.

They were supposed to be playing ball.

Unhappy with office work, the twins connected with their old hitting coach Fernando Rios, whom they first worked with at age 8, and began working out in his backyard cage in Castro Valley.

It was there that Rios arranged a meeting among first-year Ohlone College baseball coach Jordon Twohig and the Johnsons.

"I talked to Fernando, and he said he had these kids that he had been working with and that their swings were looking good," Twohig said. "So I went out to Castro Valley and watched them swing in his back yard. Our recruiting was already done, but we decided to let Jeff and Zach come out in the fall and start working out with us."

For Jeff, the opportunity just to work out with the team was something he said he was infinitely grateful for.

"(Twohig) was very honest. He said 'I can't guarantee you anything, but we'll let you come out,'"‰" Jeff said. "That's all I needed to hear."

With a golden opportunity in front of him, Jeff didn't let it go to waste. He lived in the batting cage and weight room, dropped 45 pounds to 185 and turned into one of the best junior college hitters in California.

He batted .384 and led the state in home runs (17) and RBI (61) while guiding Ohlone to the state's No. 1 ranking and a No. 6 national mark by Perfect Game Baseball. He was a unanimous first-ream All-Coast Conference Pacific Division selection as a designated hitter and is expected to be an All-Northern California selection and a possible All-American.

Zach was nearly as good, finishing the regular season with a .350 average, six homers and 44 RBI and also was a first-team All-Coast Conference pick at third base.

The top-seeded Renegades (35-9) begin the Northern California regionals at home at 2 p.m. today in a best-of-three series against No. 16 Chabot (26-16). Their 35 wins tops the school record set by the 2002 team that went 34-14.

Coming out of high school, Jeff and Zach enrolled at Diablo Valley College and intended on playing for the Vikings. However, injuries and academic issues prevented either of them from lasting long at the school.

"School got in the way (at DVC)," Jeff said. "I wasn't focused and things didn't work out."

It didn't help that nearly 100 players were working out with the team and chances of sticking with the program seemed slim.

Jeff decided to move to Southern California and test his luck at Orange Coast College, but after being told he would likely never see the field, he moved back home and started working full time at the plastic surgery center.

"I thought I was probably done with baseball at that point," he said.

Zach moved to San Diego with friends in the fall of 2007 and tried to make the team at Grossmont College, but elbow problems derailed any chance he had there, and he also ended up moving home shortly after.

"I tried to go play independent ball, but they kept telling me to go back and try to play at a JC," Zach said.

The advice paid off as several scouts took notice this year.

"Kentucky, LSU and every major school on the West Coast has called about one or both of them," Twohig said. "And there has been interest from pro scouts, as well. Although, I think it would take a substantial offer to get them to sign (with a pro team) this year."

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