Missouri redshirt freshman wide receiver Johnathon Johnson wasn’t sure he wanted to play football anymore as he rehabbed torn ligaments in his ankle last year.
“I actually lost the love for the game a little bit during the injury,” said Johnson, who was poised to contribute in his first season with the Tigers before getting hurt during a scrimmage late in training camp. “I got very depressed and got down on myself. I wanted to go home and didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Johnson, a 5-foot-10 jitterbug from Melrose High in Memphis, Tenn., leaned on fellow freshmen Richaud Floyd and Tyrell Jacobs to get through those dark days.
“I never thought I would feel the same again,” Johnson said. “ … I learned one thing — to just stay up on myself and never give up on myself even when I’m down. I just have to stay positive and keep looking forward.”
That makes days like Saturday, when Johnson scored two touchdowns — on a 54-yard punt return and an 87-yard catch-and-run — even sweeter.
It also means Johnson, who finished with five catches for 115 yards, can add a nice honor — SEC Freshman of the Week — to his resume only two games into his college football career.
“It was kind of a goal,” Johnson said, adding that he’s got still-grander plans. “ … I’m looking forward to becoming a Freshman All-American or something.”
That dreams also seemed reachable during a 61-21 rout against Eastern Michigan as Johnson became the first Football Bowl Subdivision player since 2001 with a receiving score, punt-return touchdown and more than 100 yards receiving in a single game, according to Sports-Reference.com.
“I’m excited for him,” first-year Tigers coach Barry Odom said. “I felt like last year he could’ve played for us, but he had the ankle injury, so seeing him come back and do some of the things he’s already started to do this season provides a great opportunity for our team. He’s an explosive kid that can take it (to the end zone) from a lot of different places.”
Johnson proved that on the final play of the first quarter, when he muffed the catch on a punt but recovered the ball and zipped his way through the Eagles’ coverage unit for his first career touchdown.
“I was trying to run and catch it at the same time, so I ended up muffing it,” Johnson said. “ … A voice went off in my head, I heard coach (Cornell) Ford say, ‘Get on the ball,’ but I just picked it up and … read the blocks.”
Asked if Ford was OK with the decision to pick up the ball rather than fall on it, Johnson said, "I hope so. He was happy when I scored, so I guess that’s good.”
Late in the second quarter, Johnson caught a bubble screen from sophomore quarterback Drew Lock, cut inside off blocks from sophomore tight end Kendall Blanton and junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore and raced nearly the length of the field for his first career receiving touchdown.
“It was horrible when he got hurt in that scrimmage (last August), because he had just been balling out all summer,” Lock said. “ … To see him come to his full potential in that (Eastern Michigan) game, I know he’ll have a lot of confidence going into the next game that he can do that again.”