Through the first five games of the season, Gartrell Johnson III amassed a total of 75 rushing yards and zero touchdowns.
In the last two games, Johnson has 309 yards and three scores.
Quite the turnaround for the junior running back, who was named the Mountain West Conference player of the week Monday following his 162-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Rams’ 48-23 win over UNLV Saturday.
“That is a great deserving reward for him,” said Sonny Lubick during his press conference Monday. “He didn’t get a lot of playing time earlier in the season or his career, yet he came to practice with a vengeance and with a smile on his face, playing hard.”
Johnson started at tailback for the majority of the Rams’ games a season ago, leading the team with 305 rushing yards.
But Johnson averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, leaving most to assume Kyle Bell, who missed all of 2006 due to injury, would get most of the team’s carries in 2007.
Bell did just that in four of the Rams’ first five games, but in the last two, Johnson has emerged again as the featured back.
Lubick said Johnson earned his way into the lineup.
“The players know that if the guy who’s in gets a hot hand, they’ll be sitting,” Lubick said. “So (Johnson) is trying to show coaches and himself that he deserves to be in there.”
So far, so good.
Johnson’s big day Saturday saw him set career-highs in yards and touchdowns, helping to power the Rams to their first win of the year.
Lubick said he and the coaching staff have been impressed with Johnson’s physical running style.
“He protects the football,” Lubick said. “On a run he’ll make the first three yards, look up and see where he needs to be for a first down, and then get two more yards before the pile stops.”