By DAVE LINK
It was mid-April, and Farragut third baseman Jett Johnston wasn’t having the type of senior season at the plate he’d envisioned.
The Texas A&M signee was hitting .250, so he made a change.
“I just started thinking that I’m pretty strong and powerful, and I don’t need to do everything,” Johnston said July 5. “I just need to put the ball in play, and putting the ball in play for me turned into 13 home runs. It was honestly just simplifying down the approach and let the ball get all the way to me.
“We saw 85 (mph) every day, which is honestly not great, but it’s just letting the ball get deep, laying off pitches, hitting my pitch. If the pitcher made a spot, I wasn’t going to swing at it, just waiting for my spot, and I got it and I hit it pretty well.”
In May, Johnston hit .489 (23 for 47) with five doubles, eight homers, and 24 RBIs, finishing the season with a 19-game hitting streak as the Admirals won their second consecutive Class 4A state championship.
Johnston, the 5Star Preps Offensive Player of the Year, raised his season average to .368 and finished with 10 doubles, 43 runs, 26 walks, 13 homers and 48 RBIs.
His late hot streak was nothing new.
As a junior, Johnston hit .464 with four homers in 10 postseason games, helping the then-sophomore-laden Admirals clinch the 2022 Class 4A state championship.
“I think me and (outfielder) Mark Underwood were the two starters in our class (of 2023), and above that we only had the catcher, (senior) Garrett Brewer, and everyone else was sophomores,” Johnston said. “Everyone kind of looked at us as a high-talent team with not really any experience, but it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. Whenever we showed up, we were the best baseball team on the field. It didn’t really matter about experience because our group was so talented.”
This year, the Admirals were a seasoned bunch and a favorite to win state again.
They had their setbacks, entering the state tournament with a 32-8 record before reeling off four straight victories.
“The good thing about playing for Farragut,” Johnston said, “is you’re going to see everyone’s No. 1 regardless of the day because they want to beat us real bad because we have such a rich tradition of winning.
“I think we kind of started off a little slow, lost to Hardin Valley a couple of times, lost to Bearden once, kind of let people stick around and think they had a chance, but we got hot and started playing really well and took care of business.”
MOVING TO FARRAGUT
Johnston grew up in Beaumont, Texas, about an hour from Houston.
His father, Dr. Jack Johnston, was an orthopedic surgeon in private practice for 17 years and decided to start working for a Veterans Administration Hospital in Amarillo, Texas, before Jett’s eighth-grade year.
By then, Jett was a standout baseball player. He committed to Texas A&M the summer of his freshman year of high school.
“I had always had a top-five schools growing up before I ever realized that I was going to be able to play college baseball,” Johnston said. “Whenever recruiting picked up for me and offers started coming in, I just had my top couple of schools and this (Texas A&M) by far was the top choice for me, just the culture and all the traditions. It’s just a great place to be.”
After three years in Amarillo, Jett’s father was ready for a transfer to another V.A. Hospital and had a choice of Tampa, Florida, or the Knoxville area.
“Dad just thought Knoxville would be the best place,” Jett said.
Dr. Johnston also did some research on area schools and baseball programs, and Farragut became the family destination in summer of 2021 for Jett’s junior year.
“My dad came down and visited a lot before me,” Jett said. “I guess he talked to some people or something because he picked the right school.”
Jett didn’t have trouble adjusting to Farragut.
“It was a super smooth transition,” he said. “I had posted on Twitter announcing that I was moving to Farragut, so I had already been talking to a lot of guys and made connections before I ever showed up.
“Me just playing baseball and being in the weight room and locker room all year around and not just coming in the spring, being with them in the fall, helped built trust and relationships with the team. I became close with the team really fast.”
READY FOR THE AGGIES
After the Admirals won the 2023 state title May 26 in Murfreesboro, Johnston and his family flew out of Nashville the next morning for a vacation in Aruba.
Johnston returned and started playing for the Kingsport Axmen in the Appalachian League, previously an MLB low-rookie league and now a league for college players.
“That was awesome,” Johnston said of the Appalachian League. “That was a really great experience for me, going from high school and seeing 85 (mph) to 87 every day and going to play in one of the better freshmen leagues of collegiate baseball and seeing 90 (mph), 93, sometimes 95 to 97 every day. It was pretty eye opening for me, pretty humbling, to play really good competition and not succeed as much.
“I still had success, but just realizing some minor adjustments that I’m going to make at the next level, which is not going to be hard. It was good for me to see that before I ever got to A&M.”
Johnston moved to the Texas A&M campus in College Station on July 1. He began morning weightlifting on July 6 along with summer school classes.
“I’m stoked,” Johnston said. “I can’t wait to get going. It’s not going to be a ton of baseball (at first). We can’t be with the coaches at all, can’t have any interaction with them, but just really focusing on what the strength coach (says), what each person needs: need to put on weight, need to cut weight, need to just maintain, just work on speed.
“It’s really cool. They dive really deep into what each person needs. It’s really in-depth. It’s good.”