Johnson taking his spot among Herd’s best

Shannon Stowers, Assistant Sports Editor

When Devon Johnson was moved to running back prior to the beginning of the season, a physical presence in the Thundering Herd backfield could be expected thanks to the junior’s burly build.

Johnson has lived up to those expectations, delivering crushing hits and ruthless stiff-arms while dragging hopeful tacklers yards after contact.

What was less predictable was Johnson’s overwhelming success as Marshall University’s starting running back.

Even head coach Doc Holliday said he didn’t expect the production Johnson has generated this season.

“He’s a tremendous player,” Holliday said. “I’d like to sit here and tell you I knew that was all going to happen. I knew he was a really good football player, but for me to say we were going to move him to tailback and get the production we’ve gotten out of him, I didn’t think that [would happen].”

The breakout star of the 2014 Herd offense has racked up 1,223 rushing yards this season, second only to Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. What’s the difference between the two tailbacks? Abdullah has just 46 more yards on 43 extra carries.

Through eight games, Johnson already has more rushing yards than 16 of Marshall’s last 17 leading rushers while playing for only three quarters in most games due to lopsided wins for the Herd.

Quarterback Rakeem Cato said what Johnson does in the games is nothing new to his teammates.

“He does it constantly, every day in practice, it’s nothing new for us,” Cato said. “He’s a great player to have in the backfield with me, not only rushing, but also passing: picking up blocks, catching the ball—he’s just an all-around player.”

An all-around player may be the best way to describe Johnson. The tight end turned running back has the hands to hurt a defense in the passing game, but both the power and speed to punish it on the ground.

Holliday said he’s glad the problem of stopping Johnson isn’t up to him and his staff.

“I’m glad he’s on our side, because I sure as heck wouldn’t want to have to tackle him every day,” Holliday said.

There are four teams left on the Herd’s regular season schedule that will be tasked with finding a way to stop Johnson, who’s averaging 150.4 yards per game.

The junior is on pace for 1,805 yards, which would be second all-time in Marshall history, but a dominant game like Johnson had against Florida Atlantic University would be enough to push him past Chris Parker’s 1995 school record of 1,833 yards.

Whether or not he surpasses Parker, Herd fans should enjoy the season Johnson is having. Marshall hasn’t seen a running back put together the type of season since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2006, and look where Bradshaw is now: the NFL.

Johnson’s potentially historic season isn’t going unnoticed amongst his teammates, though.

“It’s just a blessing to have Devon Johnson as part of Marshall University,” Cato said.

Johnson and his teammates will rest and recover during bye week before traveling to the University of Southern Mississippi Nov. 8.

Shannon Stowers can be contacted at [email protected].