(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Scott Johnson is ready for anything this season. With his senior year in full swing and his injury-laden past behind him, Johnson, a 5-foot-11, 188-pound free safety brings courage, heart and a dash of defense-gone-offense talent to the Cougar lineup seen last season in BYU’s win over Wyoming.
“Johnson’s score turned the game around and opened the floodgates against the Cowboys,” the Deseret News said.
“BYU’s defense scored for the first time this season when cornerback Scott Johnson picked up a ball that was ruled a backwards pass and took it 64 yards for a touchdown,” the Salt Lake Tribune said.
Headline data like these, and many more, were the news surrounding the defensive back after BYU’s 44-0 win against Wyoming last season.
Against the Cowboys, Johnson’s recovery of a backward lateral toss and 64-yard run for BYU’s first touchdown of the game helped the Cougars tab their fourth consecutive win, and second consecutive shut out in the early 2008 season.
Johnson finished his junior season with 59 tackles, including 28 solo takedowns. He also received the Robbie Bosco Award for Determination (see story on page 6), was named ESPN the Magazine All-District and received Academic All-Mountain West Conference honors.
Earlier this month, ESPN the Magazine announced its Academic All-District Football Teams, a list that included three seniors on the BYU football team. Johnson, linebacker Matt Bauman, and defensive lineman Brett Denney were all voted to the District 8 First Team and were eligible for Academic All-America consideration on the national team released earlier this week. Both Bauman and Johnson received district honors in 2008, with Bauman going on to earn Academic All-America distinction.
Johnson, an exercise science major, plans to attend medical school following graduation. Johnson joined Max Hall and Dennis Pitta, along with defensive seniors Bauman and Jan Jorgensen as season captains for 2009. Johnson was the flag bearer for the Florida State game last September.
Looking back on his junior year, Johnson says that the Wyoming game and his touchdown were not the most memorable for him. He says the 59-0 win over UCLA is the game that was most memorable for him last season because of the impact it had on his team and the BYU football program.
“It was a big win, a huge win,” Johnson said. “It made a statement about BYU and it was fun. We played one of our best football games.”
This season, the Cougars are again touting an impressive winning record. Johnson recorded his first two interceptions of his career in BYU’s 59-21 win at UNLV. His third interception came the very next week in the 38-23 win over San Diego State. Prior to those games this season, Johnson had 10 unassisted tackles against Colorado State.
In his new position as free safety for the Cougars, Johnson says he’s adjusting nicely.
“I played corner last year,” Johnson explains. “They just moved me this year and I love it. I was a free safety in high school and I think it’s just back to what I’m used to.”
The road to where Johnson is now is as decorated as they come, especially if you’ve been injured more than once in your career.
Before his mission to Brazil, where his mission president was the son-in-law of former BYU athletic director Glen Tuckett, Johnson worked out with the team and after returning home, he decided to try-out again.
“It’s kind of a rough road to decide to walk-on,” he said. “I think that out of high school I knew I loved the game and I knew it’d be a great opportunity.”
His brother Jason was also a walk-on to the BYU tennis team in 2006-07 and his sister Stacy is former Cougarette who is married to former Cougar safety K.C. Bills (2003-2005).
Making the football team that in 2006 allowed Johnson a chance to prove he was serious about making a difference to the team but when injury didn’t allow him to play that year, he determined to make a comeback.
“It was hard and a little frustrating that year, especially coming back from my mission and being a walk-on,” Johnson said. “That first year was a little disheartening because you get all excited. You work so hard and you get to a point where you feel like you can finally prove yourself and then you just physically aren’t able to do it.”
“Then you have to sit out for so long and you feel kind of worthless,” Johnson continued. “You feel like you’re letting yourself down, letting others down and there’s nothing you can really do about it except sit and wait.”
He spent his freshman year in and out of surgeries while also trying to keep practicing with the team and stay in shape. He worked closely with the trainers and coaching staff to stay in shape and be ready for his sophomore year.
His hard work and training definitely paid off.
Johnson played in all 13 games his sophomore year. He recorded a season-high four tackles in BYU’s win at New Mexico, was credited with 17 tackles and earned Academic All-MWC honors that season.
The BYU coaching staff never lost faith in Johnson and his abilities, and Johnson never gave up.
“During his times of recovery, he never changed,” said Defensive Coordinator Jaime Hill. “He never worried about himself. He was always helping his teammates and was working hard to come back to play.”
Coach Hill has been coaching at BYU for five years and says he has enjoyed working with Johnson because he is constantly working hard no matter what he’s doing.
“One word to describe Scott would be heart,” Hill said. “He has a lot of heart when he plays and is willing to sacrifice his body. He plays with passion and is always in tune with the game.”
With a supportive coaching staff behind him, Johnson says he’s always ready to play.
“Coach Hill is awesome,” Johnson said. “He’s really big on technique and doing things the way that he teaches them. That’s what really helped me at first going from a corner to a safety. Learning that technique, tightening things up and being more of a coverage player. He understands the game. You learn how to see things quicker with him.”
“I think the biggest thing that the coaches can do is to get us prepared and ready for any situation that we cold be in for a game,” he said. “They make the situations more difficult when we’re practicing so that when the games comes around it’s just normal.”
Of head coach Bronco Mendenhall, Johnson says he’s always there for you when you need him.
“Coach Mendenhall is such a constant presence,” Johnson explains. “You know when he walks in a room, you know he will not back down and I love that. I think it makes all of us raise our convictions and play to that level. The level he expects. He’s a great motivator.”
Johnson started the first nine games of his junior year before injury struck again and kept him from playing any more games until the Las Vegas Bowl last December.
“I missed the last three games of the regular season and I didn’t travel with them,” Johnson said. “That was the worst. I was around while they practiced and then when they left I just didn’t know what do to. It was hard to sit there and just watch my guys do their thing. Watching the game on TV was so hard.”
Despite having to sit at home and cheer from the couch, Johnson said he was happy for the team and the success they had. He was proud of all ‘his guys’ playing so well.
Johnson’s work and play ethic at BYU has evolved as he’s had to deal with one injury after another. He says his injuries haven’t influenced his playing style that much but that he has just gotten smarter as a player and they’ve made him work harder.
“It was a lot harder when I got here than I expected but I never wanted to quit anything and I couldn’t let myself even when it got really hard,” Johnson said. “I changed from not wanting to quit to actually wanting to be something and be someone and I think that’s when I started to play my best football. When I was determined to not just get through it but to contribute to the team it became easy to work hard and have fun.”
Coming from Timpview High School, the transition to BYU wasn’t a big one but Johnson is happy to be a Cougar.
“It was always a dream to play at BYU,” he said.
Johnson Among Winners of Robbie Bosco Award
Scott Johnson and Fui Vakapuna both won the Robbie Bosco Determination Award last season.
That annual BYU award was created at the insistence of the late Coy Miles. Miles was impressed by the courageous performance of former BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco in the 1984 Holiday Bowl when the Cougars sealed the deal on the national championship.
BYU trainer Marv Roberson said he felt like he was “putting Humpty-Dumpty together again,” when Bosco went to the locker room at the 1984 Holiday Bowl. Roberson installed his not-yet patented knee brace, did a couple of unique tape jobs on the junior’s left leg and was impressed that Bosco refused to take even an aspirin for that first quarter injury. Bosco had sustained a partial medial collateral tear in the knee, and a Grade 2 ankle sprain, but learned he could do no further damage if he returned to the game.
Bosco had been injured by Michigan’s Mike Hammerstein who delivered a late hit. Bosco was carried off the field in San Diego and returned in the second quarter to replace Blaine Fowler. Bosco worked out of shotgun formation and limped often as he engineered BYU’s triumph over the Wolverines.
Other past winners of the Robbie Bosco Award include:
2007 Corby Hodgkiss, LB; 2005 Nate Soelberg, WR; 1997 Matt Cox, OL; 1995 Morris Unutoa, C; 1994 Patrick Mitchell, DB; 1991 Jared Leavitt, LB; 1990 Pete Harston, DT; and 1988 Chuck Cutler, WR.