Forgoing redshirt, Johnson is everything Longhorns need and more

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

Roschon Johnson and Tom Herman have had two weighty conversations in the early goings of Johnson’s tenure at Texas. The first came around the time of the freshman’s first game back in August. The second was Sunday.

Both times, Herman talked to the quarterback-turned-running back about whether or not he would play only the allotted amount of four games and redshirt, forcing him to sit out the remainder of the season, or if he would continue to suit up and play this year.

In Sunday’s discussion, one thing was important to Johnson if he were to play the remainder of this season: “Am I still going to be able to help the team?”

Herman’s response?

“I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Herman said. “And (Johnson) said, ‘Then we’ll worry about all that stuff after the season.’ We’re planning on playing him for the rest of
the season.”

The decision was made. Despite not playing the position he came to Texas to play, the position that earned him four stars and 17 offers coming out of high school, Johnson decided to lose a potential extra year of eligibility to help the Longhorns fill a critical hole as running back.

Johnson’s selflessness to start his Texas career helps alleviate the biggest problem the Longhorns have faced in their 2019 campaign: depth.

Injuries to three running backs to start the season left the position room deathly thin, with just sophomore Keaontay Ingram remaining. Johnson was thrust into the position as Ingram’s backup and has carved out an even bigger role in this offense.

He looked like a natural from the start. Through four games, Johnson has averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 34 carries. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he physically looks the part of a tailback. The surprise is that he doesn’t look like a quarterback trying to learn a new position.

He runs with excellent vision and power, looks relatively solid in pass protection and, most importantly, just looks comfortable. It couldn’t have been a simple transition, but Johnson has made it look easy.

“(Week Two) I looked over and it was Roschon (at running back), and I was like, ‘Oh, what’s up bro,’ because we were just sitting in the same room a few weeks before,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “He’s hardworking, doesn’t like to mess up, does everything he can to put himself in a position to succeed. I think he’s transitioned well.”

The most impressive part of Johnson’s switch is the selflessness it displays. In the age of the transfer portal, good quarterbacks stuck behind an elite one often flee to a place where they can show off their talents. (See Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields and Tate Martell — wait, never mind.)

Instead of finding a way out, Johnson has fully bought in, and I’m not quite sure where Texas would be right now without him. Even though Ingram claims he can run the ball 30-plus times a game, I doubt anybody wants to see it happen. And against Oklahoma State, when Texas ran the ball 43 times, Johnson ran for 30 yards and a touchdown that gave the Longhorns a two-score fourth-quarter lead.

It’s unclear what Johnson’s role will be when freshman Jordan Whittington returns from injury in a few weeks. If he’s relegated to a third-string role, so be it. Whatever it may be, Johnson has already shown he will take it in stride.