Recovering from injury was agonizing for Jordan Johnson, especially the waiting. He dealt with the pain just fine, but it was the months of being away from football that were the most excruciating.
“I counted the days,” the University at Buffalo sophomore tailback said, “I was out for 228 days.”
Count the year Johnson redshirted as a freshman and the wait was even longer. So, it goes without saying the former Sweet Home quarterback is hungry. At 6-foot, 233-pounds he is the largest of the Bulls tailbacks by at least 30 pounds and arguably their most punishing runner, although Anthone Taylor might beg to differ.
Heading into the third week of spring practice, Johnson has shown the ability that made him a high-priority local recruit three years ago.
“It was a great feeling being able to have some good runs and being able to showcase what I can do and have potential to do,” Johnson said. “Every day is a day to get better and I think these next two weeks are days to keep growing more and more.”
Running backs coach Matt Simon said he would be, “surprised” if Johnson wasn’t part of a rotation that includes Taylor and Devin Campbell, both juniors.
“Being out that long is a humbling experience,” Johnson said. “Being back out here is fun, it shows you how much you love the game and really want to be out there and compete and be out there with your teammates.”
During an hour-long scrimmage last Saturday at UB Stadium, Johnson was part of the day’s biggest play when he took a slip-screen pass from Craig Slowik and did most of the heavy-lifting on a 70-yard play.
“It was good blocking by the O-line and the receivers down field and just had to do what I had to do as a running back getting up field,” Johnson said. “Credit to the O-line and the other 10 players blocking.”
Said UB senior wideout Devon Hughes: “He’s a big kid, he got hurt unfortunately last year but he’s really stepping up. He’s a big kid and as you can see he can run. He surprises me but not so much because I knew he had talent, but he put on a show and that was good to see.”
UB coach Jeff Quinn said Johnson is taking a more active role in the Bulls running game.
“I always knew Jordan had athleticism and talent. It’s just being a discipline fundamental Division I-A type football player all the time and being able to put that consistency together,” Quinn said. “It will be exciting to see how he builds on that.”
Johnson came to UB with the potential to become a playmaker. The dual threat quarterback was ranked in the top 160 nationally by ESPN.com. He redshirted as a freshman while working with the scout team at tailback but Johnson’s future appeared to be at H-back. He was listed as the backup to Boomer Brock on the depth chart last spring.
But Johnson suffered a season-ending elbow injury that required surgery. The painful countdown to his return began.
“I just believed in God’s plan and believe everything works out for a reason,” Johnson said. “God is going to put his toughest soldiers through the toughest battles. Injuries happen, it’s a part of the game, it was something that I could come back from and it’s a good thing it wasn’t a career-ending injury.”
Even now, Johnson has to wait his turn. Taylor is the leading returning rusher while Campbell, who was second on the Bulls in rushing two years ago, has returned to tailback after playing last season at slot receiver. Taylor’s attitude remains positive.
“It’s a brotherhood when you’re in the locker room and a brotherhood when you’re out there on the field competing against one another and against your opponents,” Johnson said. “Competition is competition, that’s a part of football. But when you’re in the meeting room, you want to see everybody succeed, you want to help one another. But when you’re out there on the field you get to showcase your talent. But when someone messes up you want to help them out and when someone does good, you want to cheer them on. You pick and choose your battles.”
Junior punter Tyler Grassman has an infection in his right foot and missed practice on Tuesday. He was on crutches, but Quinn said Grassman is fine and will return soon.