Johnson Catching On Quick For Huskies
Oct. 9, 2009
By TIM BOOTH
AP SPORTS WRITER
SEATTLE -- Now that he's wearing the purple and gold of Washington, James Johnson can recall his moment of dismissal with a chuckle.
Last fall, as a promising high school senior, Johnson sat in his bedroom one day and had the idea of playing his college ball at Washington pop into his mind.
'I told myself Washington was horrible and I would never go there,' Johnson recalled.
So why, less than a year later, is Johnson the leading receiver for the Huskies nearly halfway through his first college season?
'Out of all the other coaches I felt Coach (Sarkisian),' Johnson said.
'Out of all the other coaches I felt Coach (Sarkisian).'
UW Freshman Receiver James Johnson
There was a good reason Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff were giddy on national signing day last February when they plucked Johnson, who had nearly 3,000 yards receiving in his high school career, out of Southern California and brought the lanky 6-foot playmaker to the Pacific Northwest.
From nearly his first formal practice for Washington in August, Johnson has imprinted himself as the Huskies star pass catcher for the future. He caught six passes and a touchdown in his college debut against LSU, then grabbed seven more in the Huskies' attention-grabbing 16-13 upset of USC.
Last week against Notre Dame, Johnson caught only two of Jake Locker's passes. But one of those came on Washington's final drive of regulation when Johnson made an acrobatic 37-yard reception to help set up Erik Folk's field goal that sent the game to overtime.
It was another moment early in Johnson's career where the situation didn't overwhelm the youngster.
'I just saw the ball and went up and caught it. It was definitely a great feeling to be a great contributor to the team at such a young age,' Johnson said. 'That's something I expected because of how hard I worked. I just want to keep getting better and doing good things.'
The fact Johnson is with the Huskies is shocking considering how Washington was brushed off a year ago. The Huskies didn't even land on Johnson's consideration list until after Sarkisian took over in Seattle.
It was then that Sarkisian visited Johnson in the hopes of getting him to give the Huskies a chance. Johnson said he felt a connection with Sarkisian that he lacked with other coaches.
There was also the chance that Johnson's talent could immediately get him playing time if he came to Washington, even with wide receiver being one of the Huskies' deepest positions when Sarkisian took over.
'I just think he goes out and plays,' Sarkisian said. 'It doesn't matter, who, what, when, where or how - this is what I'm supposed to do, here comes the ball, let me catch it and go make my play.'
The work ethic that landed Johnson in the starting lineup is largely due to his brother, Greg Taylor, whom Johnson lived with in San Marcos, Calif. after moving from the Los Angeles area in the seventh grade.
Johnson said his brother instilled in him accountability and hard work during his formative years.
'(Greg) and his wife taught me well. He always told me stayed focused and if I want to be good at something work to be the best at it,' Johnson said. 'He always instilled that in me. I just took that and every day did exactly what they told me to do.'
That attitude was noticed by his teammates soon after he arrived in Seattle, and that impression has only grown since his first time on the field.
'When the ball is in the air, I feel he makes a point to say it's his and he's going to go get it,' Locker said. 'I'm just really impressed with how he competes and how hard he plays when he's on the field.'