During fall practices, breakfast check starts at 6:15 a.m. for the Oregon football team. The first Duck to arrive through the doors of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex in Eugene, OR, is junior wide receiver Johnny Johnson III.
The early bird wide receiver has attacked the 2019 season with a different approach and the team is feeling the dividends. Now the question remains; After an up and down Oregon career, when injuries have shrunk the pool of eligible receivers, is this the season Johnny Johnson truly arrives as a reliable option for quarterback Justin Herbert?
“I’m fired up for him because of the type of camp that he’s had… He’s said ‘Enough is enough. It’s my time,’” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “He’s been through a lot. We all have our ups and downs but we like sticking by our guys. We’ve stuck by him. He knows it. He feels it.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound former three-star recruit from Chandler, Arizona has started 16 games in the past two seasons. He had more receptions and yards as a freshman than last season; in his 10 starts in 2017, Johnny Johnson totaled 21 receptions for 299 yards and one touchdown. As a sophomore, he had 17 receptions for 215 yards and four touchdowns but most concerning was his dropped passes and decline in production in UO’s final eight games.
Hence the ups and downs that Cristobal referenced.
“Whether it’s an up and down season for (Johnny Johnson), he’s always going to come in and work hard,” said senior linebacker Troy Dye. “He’s the first dude in the facility every day, getting extra treatment, stretching out, rolling out. He’s one of the last dudes off the field every day… I think this year will be a big year for him”
His teammates and coaches have noticed his soaring confidence translate to excellent play.
“(Johnny Johnson) has gotten a lot better from last year,” Junior cornerback Deommodore Lenoir said. “To summarize his whole game, he’s an acrobat; He makes crazy catches, diving catches, all types of catches.”
Lenoir also tabbed Johnny Johnson and Juwan Johnson as Oregon’s most physical receivers. An important title, considering the No. 11 Ducks have a date with No. 16 Auburn on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.
The Tigers’ secondary is filled with veterans, returning four of five starters including two seniors at safety. Auburn’s athletic, smart and daunting defense will test the Duck’s pass catchers as they’ve proven to be pesky; breaking up 39 passes and picking off 12 in 2018. While the Tigers’ defensive line gets attention for being one of the best in the nation, Cristobal’s been impressed with Auburn’s explosive secondary.
“They’re as physical and as impressive as you can see,” Cristobal said.
It’s a perfect time for everything to come together for Johnny Johnson. He’s confident in his football IQ and has worked to become “better at it all; mentally, physically, running routes and catching the ball”.
His versatility will be key. As injuries have mounted, Johnny Johnson has been working outside and in the slot for the Ducks. The Ducks receiving corps is coping with injuries to Brenden Schooler (right foot), Mycah Pittman (shoulder), JR Waters (lower leg) and Lance Wihoit (limited). Oregon needs Johnny Johnson, Redd and Juwan Johnson to own their starting spots from the jump.
Johnny Johnson’s confidence in himself spills over into this praise for Oregon’s wide receiver unit.
“They’ll see on Saturdays. They’ll see,” said Johnny Johnson. “I ain’t got nothing to say. They’ll see…”