Johnson rushes for career high in comeback


Shontrelle Johnson runs the ball for a touchdown during Saturday’s game, Sept. 1, against Tulsa at Jack Trice Stadium. Johnson had a severe neck injury last season, which almost ended his career. He bounced back Saturday to rush for a career-high 120 yards. 

Jake Calhoun

Last October, Shontrelle Johnson thought he might not ever get to play football again.

However, the junior running back made his return on Saturday, Sept. 1, rushing for a career-high 120 yards on 18 carries while scoring his first touchdown in two years in the ISU football team’s 38-23 season-opening victory against Tulsa.

“Shontrelle Johnson, he’s a guy who’s always positive,” said linebacker Jeremiah George. “Even with not knowing whether he was going to be able to come back and play this year, he trained so hard — he trained harder than a lot of people I know that would be in that situation.

“He carries somewhat of a chip on his shoulder, but he doesn’t let it affect what he does.”

After sustaining a season-ending neck injury against Texas on Oct. 1 that required surgery, Johnson’s future was all but certain due to the severity of neck injuries and their critical hindrance later in life.

Johnson said his work with strength coach Yancy McKnight during the offseason was a key component of his return to the field on Saturday.

“I put on 10 pounds since last year; my numbers in the weight room increased dramatically, and I just feel like a more complete back, a stronger back,” Johnson said.

The biggest difference from Johnson from last season, he said, is his understanding of the offense, which came in part from his time away from the field.

“I was able to visualize and see James White and Jeff Woody; they paved the way for me; they showed me a lot as far as visual reps and everything,” Johnson said. “I just understand it more and see it better.”

ISU head coach Paul Rhoads said having Johnson back pays dividends in spreading out the rushing attack between him and starter James White, who tallied 54 yards and a rushing touchdown of his own.

“Having him back from that surgery after watching him get carried off the field against [Texas] does a lot of wonders for my heart,” Rhoads said. “He had an excellent training camp, and I think we saw that today.”

Johnson said getting used to the speed of the game was not too difficult, managing to take his four carries in the first quarter for 25 yards. Johnson went on to finish with an average of 6.7 yards per carry.

“I feel like I was pretty much in the sync of things,” Johnson said. “It actually kind of slowed down for me later on — I was able to see a lot today.”

While Johnson’s comeback may not have seemed possible 11 months ago, expectations for him now as he returns 100-percent healthy are high.

“Shontrelle’s an amazing player — we’ve known that for a while now,” said quarterback Steele Jantz. “He did a great job today, but the truth is that’s what we expect out of him. We have high expectations for him and he certainly didn’t disappoint us today.”

Jantz, who also made his first start since last October, notched a rushing touchdown as well as a 32-of-45 passing performance with two passing touchdowns.

Even though Johnson and White are expected to be the one-two punch for the ISU running game, the depth at the position with Woody and DeVondrick Nealy makes things interesting at least at the start of the season.

“We’ve got four running backs that can carry the load, so we never know who will get in,” Johnson said.