Ruler can't measure Johnson's impact
BY ERIC BAILEY World Sports Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
8/20/09 at 9:43 AM
Freshman finds success as returner and receiver.
Damaris Johnson will be one of the smallest players in Saturday's Tulane-Tulsa football game.
Size has never mattered to Johnson, and he may be able to make the biggest impact.
"He's just a special young man," Tulsa coach Todd Graham said. "I don't know where they list him as in terms of how tall he is. He may be 5-7, but he plays 11-foot tall."
Johnson, a true freshman from Norco, La., has excelled on kickoff returns and as a wide receiver. He has a team-high 1,796 all-purpose yards, and needs only two kickoff return yards to set a single-season Tulsa record.
Many schools, including his hometown Tulane, didn't recruit him. He heard it was because of his size.
"All of my life, I've been smaller than everybody else," Johnson said. "But I always had a little more speed and quickness. Some schools were looking over me because of my size. When I first heard that, I was mad. But my high school receivers coach (Greg Boyne) told me we'd find a perfect place. This has worked out for the best."
Johnson had scholarship offers from Minnesota, TCU, Southern Miss and Memphis, among others, when he visited Tulsa.
When the coaches told Johnson they wanted him to play offense, the Hurricane jumped to the top of the list.
After going through summer workouts, Johnson immediately showed off his skills. He started returning kickoffs from game one, and had his first college touchdown reception in the second week.
By his seventh game, he had a kickoff return for a touchdown, a 94-yarder against UTEP.
"That one was odd," Johnson said. "There wasn't a wall set up and, once the ball got to me, there was only one guy between me and the end zone. I've been making guys miss all of my life. Once I made him miss and felt the open field, I got excited."
Following a two-touchdown performance against Central Florida, family and friends flooded his cell phone with calls and messages.
"That was a thrill," Johnson said. "When I came back to the locker room, I had 27 text messages and 15 missed calls."
Johnson hasn't shied from contact. Against UCF, he said he absorbed a "welcome-to-college-football" tackle. He's taken crunches in losses to Houston and Arkansas.
"He has unbelievable courage," Graham said. "I tell him on kickoff returns sometimes, when you have eight guys in front of you, try to protect yourself. He refuses and wants to get every yard he can get."
Johnson would love to celebrate his 19th birthday Saturday with a victory.
He'd also like to reach some of his personal goals, which would make TU an even better team.
"I haven't reached my expectations," Johnson said. "I want to be an All-American and all-conference player. But it's not just my self-goals. We have team goals that we haven't reached.
"And now, we want to play for the seniors and send them off in a good way. We want to win and finish the season off strong."
Eric Bailey 581-8391
Here is an explanation of the buttons on the player above.
Play slide show with sound
Next image / play slide show without sound
Expand the slide show to full screen
To see each slide
To see all of the Tulsa World slide shows, go to tulsaworld.com/photos.
Damaris Johnson has a team-high 1,796 all-purpose yards. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World