Senior receiver shines
In his first season as a full-time receiver, senior Justin Johnson has morphed from a player whose intangibles went unnoticed in the box score to a stat-stuffing hero.
After functioning as the Swiss Army knife of the Cougars’ offense during his first three seasons, Johnson has found a home in the slot.
With two touchdown grabs in UH’s 56-0 win over Georgia State, he quietly leads the Cougars with four receiving scores.
“He’s done it for the last three or four years as a move-around Y, H-back kind of guy, blocks for us,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
“I can’t tell you what he’s done for us on special teams. He’s a great team player, a tremendous leader and we can’t have enough Justin Johnsons on a team like this.”
Johnson’s numbers have improved each season with the Cougars, going from 147 all-purpose yards as a redshirt freshman in 2008 when he was primarily used as a running back to 248 receiving yards and three touchdowns last season.
Johnson has already eclipsed those totals this year with 288 yards and four touchdowns on 17 receptions.
“I think people notice him now in the stats more,” Sumlin said. “But he’s been a critical part of our success since we’ve been here.
“All these other guys get all the pub — Bryce, Charles, Mike Hayes, they get all the highlight tapes and then our receivers on the outside, the fast guys. Justin Johnson, he’s a winner. He makes critical plays for us.”
Johnson is happy to have found a home as an inside receiver, but is happier to contribute to a winning team.
“It’s nice,” Johnson said. “I don’t really put too much importance on it, but wherever I can help out, wherever I’m needed is what I’ll do and where I’ll play. But if it can be at receiver getting the ball then that’s what I’ll do.
“And if it has to be blocking, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s nice to get the ball a few times.”
In addition to his versatility and playmaking abilities, Johnson’s work ethic is also an asset for the Cougars.
“He’s a leader by example,” Sumlin said. “He’s a veteran guy that talks to the young guys.
“He leads by example in practice and it comes out in the games. He’s very versatile. He’s very trustworthy and he’s a guy that does a lot for us.”
Before becoming the Cougars’ do-it-all receiver, Johnson starred as a point guard for Berkner High School and his AAU team, the Dallas Mustangs.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but at one time I was ranked No. 7 in the state of Texas in basketball,” Johnson said.
With the Mustangs, the 6’1, 223 pound Johnson played with current Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Randolph and for current UH assistant coach Ulric Maligi.
“I definitely like seeing coach Maligi around,” Johnson said. “That side of sports is fun. I still have love for it.
“I wasn’t much like the point guards you may see today. I was more of an old-school point guard, facilitator, not really trying to score a lot of points. I had a lot of good guys around me, so I was more of a distributor, more of an assist guy and control the tempo.”