Johnson draws praise from coaches, teammates for training camp position switch

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Not everyone can be like Texas freshman Roschon Johnson.

Not everyone can produce over 12,000 yards of offense and 160 touchdowns during their high school career. Not everyone locks in their commitment to a school so thoroughly that coaches from most schools decide it’s not worth trying to pry open. Not everyone is a finalist for the Watkins Award, given annually to the nation’s top African-American male high school scholar athlete.

Not everyone can switch from their desired, lifelong dream position for the good of the team by their own volition, but again, not everyone can be like Roschon Johnson.

In recent days, Johnson switched from the quarterback room to the running back room due to depth-depleting training camp injuries in Stan Drayton’s position group. It wasn’t a change Johnson pushed back against, it was a change he asked for.

Texas head coach Tom Herman said Thursday Johnson texted him saying he didn’t believe it was fair to sophomore Keaontay Ingram and freshman Jordan Whittington to have to take on so many reps without a true scholarship backup. Herman said Johnson told him ‘if you need me, play me.’

“I thought it was really mature of him to do,” Herman said. “The new four game redshirt rule certainly helps. So we’re going to play him. He’s in the two-deep on some special teams right now.”

Herman said the health of senior Kirk Johnson and junior Daniel Young will determine how they handle Roschon’s playing time following the first four games. Texas’ bye week falls on September 28 after the first four games of the season, meaning Kirk Johnson and Young have several weeks in order to heal and return to the depth chart.

But when asked if he expects Roschon Johnson to receive snaps at running back, Herman said Thursday “absolutely.”

“We’ll play him,” Herman said. “He’s not going to play as much as those other two guys. He’s been playing the position for like eight days, but he’s a quick learner and he’s got a lot of ability.”

On August 23, Johnson had his red newcomer stripe removed from his helmet in the midst of the position change. Players get a chance to say a few words to their teammates after the removal, and Johnson took the opportunity to describe how much his Longhorn brethren meant to him.

Senior captain Zach Shackelford said Tuesday Johnson stood up and “poured his heart out to us,” and gained the respect of his teammates in the process. Shackelford said Johnson outlined he would do anything for his team at any position. All he wanted was to be on the field and to help.

“A ton of respect for Roschon for doing that because it’s not easy to do, coming out of high school playing one position and switching to another,” Shackelford said. “He’s going to do great things. Really, really selfless player. A very good athlete. Whatever he plays, he’ll do great.”

Johnson was an accomplished quarterback for Port Neches-Groves high school, averaging 2,511 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns, 1,603 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns a year over three complete varsity seasons for the Indians. He completed 62 percent of his career passes and was honored as an Elite 11 finalist in 2018.

His offense under PNG head coach Brandon Faircloth closely resembled Herman’s. With such a heavy rushing workload over his three varsity seasons (227 average attempts per season), the transition to running back in Texas’ offense isn’t one that will be completely foreign to the former Under Armour All-American.

There are still some adjustments for Johnson to make. He no longer has the black jersey Texas quarterbacks wear in order to signify they are not to be touched in practice. He has to learn pass blocking assignments, something he never had to do as a passer.

His work in learning those attributes drew glowing praise from another captain, Sam Ehlinger.

“What a selfless dude to be moved to the running back position just for emergency cases,” Ehlinger said. “His work ethic hasn’t dropped at all. Obviously, he’s a freak athlete. He knows the offense really well and he always has a positive attitude about it. I’ve been very proud of him.”

Sometimes it takes years for players to earn respect within a program, but a selfless act for the betterment of the team can drastically accelerate the process.

Few freshmen are able to earn that level of respect from coaches and captains so early in a career.

Not everyone can be like Roschon Johnson.