#RedDevilsAlum: Johnson battling to start on Army's O-line

4 minute read

By Sal Interdonato
Times Herald-Record
Aug 16, 2018

WEST POINT — Mike Johnson sported a bandage on his chin during Army football media day. He needed a few stitches after his helmet came off during a recent practice.

“Nothing crazy, just football,” Johnson said.

The minor battle wound serves as a sign that Johnson has returned to the sport that the offensive lineman has loved since he put on the pads in the fourth grade.

“You get a few stitches in there and you are like, ’Hey I’m good and I’m back after it,” said Johnson, who is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that caused him to miss the 2017 season.

One year ago, Johnson was a sophomore battling to start on a veteran line when he injured his knee. Johnson is now one of Army’s most experienced offensive linemen behind three-year starting center Bryce Holland and junior guard Jaxson Deaton.

Johnson started two games as a freshman, playing a combined 99 snaps against Wake Forest and Air Force. He took 40 snaps as a blocking tight end in a 21-17 win over Navy in 2016.

Army took a cautious approach to Johnson’s comeback. Johnson focused on improving his speed in the spring and did not participate in contact drills. He started working out on a zero gravity treadmill, graduated to a standard treadmill and then on-field cutting and agility work.

“I was super anxious to get back on the field,” said the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Johnson. “I love playing football. Having football taken away was a little rough. Once I got back to it, I started running, sprinting and cutting. Everything started (to come back). It was really awesome. I was really excited. It changed my mindset. It really humbles you in a sense. You got to take every rep like it’s going to be your last.”

Johnson’s preseason progress has impressed offensive coordinator Brent Davis. Johnson is battling sophomore Peyton Reeder at starting right guard. Johnson doesn’t just want to return to his old form, he wants to be better than before his injury. Whether Johnson takes Army’s first snap at Duke on Aug. 31 or not, Davis said the junior will be a “factor” for the Black Knights in their quest for a third consecutive bowl appearance.

“He worked extremely hard to get back,” Davis said. “He’s such a mentally tough guy. He’s really anxious to get back in there and be the exact same player he was before he got hurt. It’s just going to take time to come back from a knee injury. He’s probably not real patient with himself right now but he’s doing really well.”

It comes down to technique and fundamentals for Johnson in Army’s final two weeks of preparation for Duke.

“I’m really stressing those (technique and fundamentals),” Johnson said. “They don’t come back overnight after not playing for roughly a year. I’m working those every day and every single day, I’m getting a little bit better.”

The fundamentals are far more complex than the ones Johnson first learned in the fourth grade. But Johnson has only known one way to play the sport since his youth days.

“I’ve always found myself with my hand in the dirt,” Johnson said.

The cry of an offensive lineman.

Twitter: @salinterdonato