One of the most interesting spring battles is at running back and a name that has been equally hyped for most of the past year is transfer Storm Johnson. It has not been uncommon since preseason practice this past August to hear someone rave about the natural ability of the Miami transfer.
While having to sit out the mandated year due to NCAA transfer rules, he was one of the most valuable show team players and exciting playmakers in the weeks leading up to games. Johnson has continued that this March, with his most recent highlight being a hurdle of a defense back to cap an 11 yard touchdown run in UCF’s first full scrimmage Saturday.
With each successful play, the redshirt sophomore gets more comfortable but he also knows there is still more work to be done.
“I am just trying to flow with the offense better,” said Johnson. “Just knowing my responsibilities and knowing my plays. Also, just getting back into football form. I have been out of it for a year. Just getting back to getting first downs, getting touchdowns, is very exciting for me.”
Part of what pushes Johnson to reach his goals is the pair of other successful Knights’ running backs he is competing with for time. Former thousand-yard rusher Brynn Harvey and reigning team MVP Latavius Murray will both be seniors and also share the backfield load.
Head coach George O’Leary says that each runner is still under evaluation, but that he would like to see more downhill running from the trio. That might be the next step in one back separating from the pack, but for now Johnson is thriving off the rivalry.
“Competition to me just makes everyone better,” said Johnson. “I feel like everyone has been doing the best that they can do. Someone is going to come out on top, so you have to do better than the next person. I feel competition is much needed.”
For the time being, Murray is the front-runner in the battle after a strong end to 2011. He scampered for 233 yards and two touchdowns in UCF’s last game of the year against UTEP.
Still, O’Leary insists that each will get carries when fall roles around and that Johnson and Murray could actually see action simultaneously.
“You never have enough good running backs,” said O’Leary. “You’re only an ankle away. We’ll use them all. I think the versatility of Latavius helps us too because he’s a really good receiver. You can see a couple of those guys in the backfield at the same time, which I think a lot of times we may go that way.”
In the remaining two weeks of spring practice, each running back will work to keep showing their strong suits. Johnson has already flashed enough to make him perhaps one of the Knights most popular players despite not playing an official down.
On Saturday, he remarked his mom named him Storm to distinguish him and give him a moniker that would fit an exciting person. If these last eight months of buzz are any indication, he seems well on his way to carrying through on those maternal aspirations.
Truly, Johnson cannot wait to live up to both his name and the hopes of a fan base when he runs down the field in his first game action for UCF this September.
“Everyone is excited about the season,” said Johnson. “We know last year wasn’t the season that we would like. So this year, everyone just keeps pushing and working and we are going to have a great season this year.”