HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—Devon Johnson woke up Sunday morning, sore and stiff, but it was a good sore. The kind of sore that comes from 19 carries, 151 yards and two touchdowns. It’s the kind of sore Johnson can get used to.
“I missed it a lot. After I got out there and started running I was like, man I missed it,” smiled Johnson. “Now that I’m back at running back it just feels like home.”
Johnson was a two-way player at RichlandS High School in Virginia where he played running back and linebacker but when he arrived at Marshall Johnson was being groomed to play tight end. At 6-foot-1 and 243 pounds Johnson fit the mold as a tight end, plus Marshall had a full stable of running backs. This fall, with Kevin Grooms’ dismissal from the team, The Herd needed to add depth to the backfield and turned to Johnson.
“He brings some energy to the team. He’s going to play hard. He goes. He can run,” praised Coach Doc Holliday. “He’s probably a lot further along than I thought he’d be at this point but he’s done a good job.”
Holliday never doubted Johnson’s ability to run the ball. Everyone had seen what he could do with the ball in his hand last year when he lined up as the tailback in the jumbo sets or caught a pass in the open field. What has been especially encouraging for the coaching staff is how quickly he was able to pick up on the protection schemes in the backfield, earning Doc Holliday’s trust and Rakeem Cato’s.
“I think what he brings to that room, he’s going to make (Steward) Butler and Remi (Watson) better. He already has because if they don’t play hard and block that ‘A’ and ‘B’ gap on blitzes they’re going to sit over there and watch because he does,” said Holliday.
Johnson has quickly earned a reputation as a bruising tailback, running over teammates during preseason camp and toppling Miami’s all-conference linebacker Kent Kern. Johnson and Kern met in the hole during Saturday’s game and Johnson left Kern flat on his back.
“Coach Barclay says one-on-one in the whole you’d better win. B-Y-O-B, Bring Your Own Block,” said Johnson. “When I saw him in the hole I was like I got to win this one-on-one. When I saw him I just lowered my shoulder and thank God I won. That’s my mindset for the rest of the year.”
More often than the offensive line misses those collisions, since they are blocking, but center Chris Jasperse says they can hear them and knew Johnson was dishing out some punishment.
“He’s more of a power back, Rockhead is going to go right through somebody. He wants contact,” said Jasperse.
But Johnson also has some open field speed once he gets into the second. He displayed that on a 27-yard touchdown run in the second half and a 55-yard run down the sidelines. Although, he caught some good-natured ribbing from his teammates because he got caught from behind, one yard shy of the goal line.
In a pinch in the fourth quarter and needing to chew some clock and score a touchdown to salt the game away, Holliday and offensive coordinator Bill Legg did not hesitate to give Johnson the ball.
“It felt good that the coaching staff trusted me to take the ball and run out the clock and they had that trust in me on those fourth-and-one’s and fourth-and-two’s to get the first down and keep the clock moving,” said Johnson.
Johnson had better get accustomed to feeling sore on Sundays. If he keeps running like he did last week he can expect to continue getting carries and to continue making defenders even feel even worse.