Community, school and home.
Those are three attributes Johnnie Eckart valued when he was at Jefferson Area High School.
It’s the same type of situation that led the senior to select Hiram College for academics and to play football starting in the fall.
Hiram is a small town like Jefferson.
“They sent me some information, I went out to a football camp, got to see the campus,” Eckart said. “It was far enough from home, but I can still go home.”
Eckart, a sports management major, is currently slated to play on the offensive line for the Terriers, a Division III North Coast Athletic Conference for football. Hiram is located in Portage County.
“We are excited that Johnnie decided to stay close to home so we can watch him play on Saturdays,” Falcons coach Ed Rankin said.
Eckart is joining a program which has a new coach as Jack Mrozinski Jr. was hired in December 2019.
The Terriers have won four games in the last three seasons. They went 0-10 last season.
“They’re going through a bit of a rebuild,” Eckart said. “They had a pretty rough season [in 2019]. It’s kind of like starting over.”
Eckart would like to get playing time as a freshman.
“We’ve been on quite a bit of Zoom meetings and things are clicking forward,” he said.
Eckart has been participating in online meets with the coaching staff and players.
“I definitely like the way he’s [Mrozinski Jr.] doing things,” Eckart said. “He’s doing things that need to be done and the execution seems good. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the end.”
Eckhart has been conducting home workouts sent by the coaches.
“We also have been competing in ‘Terrier Tough Tuesday’, where we do timed workouts and compare them to our teammates,’” he said.
The 6-foot-0, 255 pounder was a three-year letter-winner and team captain for the Falcons.
After the 2019 season, he posted first-team all-county honors on the offensive line and honorable mention Division V Northeast Lakes All-District accolades.
Eckart graded at a 90 percent blocking efficiency last season.
“Johnnie is a hard-nosed, physical football player,” said Rankin, who coached Eckart for two seasons at Jefferson. “He is an extremely intelligent player with a blue collar work ethic.
“He is also a tremendous leader, who leads by example. I expect Johnnie to compete for playing time and a starting position once he steps foot on campus.”
Eckart views himself as a vocal leader.
“I want to help the other players and work to get things done efficiently,” he said.
The last three seasons have been tough for Jefferson, as well.
The Falcons won just two games from 2017-19.
“I learned it’s not all about winning and losing,” Eckart said. “It was a very good learning curve. It taught you about the game of football and to come out a better person.”
Eckart will miss the atmosphere surrounding Jefferson the most.
“I know I have a good family and we had such a bond on the field, in the classroom and in the community,” he said. “We would walk down the halls and people would tell us good job or encourage us.”
Eckart picked up a $1,000 scholarship from the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club.
He was Jefferson’s representative for the 2019 Robert L. Weise Scholarship during the hall of fame induction ceremony and banquet in December.
“It meant a lot,” he said of receiving scholarship money. “It’s good to be recognized for all the good I tried to do for the school.”
Eckart also earned money from the Eagle Scouts.
The school year didn’t end the way Eckart wanted in athletics.
He was supposed to be a shot putter and discus thrower for the track and field team, but that didn’t happen when spring sports were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was very upsetting to me,” he said. “I missed last season because of an injury.”
Rankin is looking forward to watching Eckart grow at Hiram.
“Johnnie is very bright and Hiram will support and challenge him academically, most importantly,” Rankin said.