USC's Ronald Johnson Getting Early Heisman Buzz
Black socks? Or white? For USC wide receiver Ronald Johnson, there is no gray area.
Which is why at Tuesday's practice he was back in black.
A lot of players feel there is a transitive property between appearance and performance -- the better you look, the better you play -- and Johnson thinks he looks best in black.
So when Trojans coach Lane Kiffin came to him before Thursday’s season opener at Hawai’i and told Johnson to take off his black socks, it sparked a 15-minute ordeal before he finally relented.
“I always practice in them. I feel great in them,” Johnson said. “But if it’s something I have to do for the team, I’m willing to do it.”
Johnson kicked off the black socks and then shined, white socks and all, in the Trojans' 49-36 victory.
He led the team with seven receptions -- three resulting in touchdowns -- and also added a two-point conversion.
His most electric play was an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter though. After neglecting to signal for a fair catch, Johnson caught the punt in close quarters, broke away from a pair of defenders and burst up the right sideline for the score.
Johnson's four-touchdown performance has people buzzing, most importantly the sportswriters who vote for the coveted Heisman Trophy award.
In the spring, Johnson said he hoped to compete for the Heisman, but his ambition was written off as an overly lofty goal given the nature of the prestigious award.
In the 75-year history of the Heisman Trophy, only 19 receivers have been in the top 10 of the award’s voting. Of those, just six received 10 percent or more of the votes. Only three wide receivers have actually lifted the bronze statue in celebration -- and that’s being generous considering Michigan’s Charles Woodson was primarily a defensive back.
Even the greatest wide receiver in football history, Jerry Rice, finished ninth in 1984, receiving just 21 votes from 1,050 registered electors.
Johnson is currently second in the nation in points scored with 26 (four points behind Oregon’s Kenjon Barner) but his attention is focused forward.
"[The Hawai’i game] probably set me up a little bit, but it’s what I do afterwards – now what do I do as far as the next game,” Johnson said. “If I come out and execute and show [the Heisman voters] that I can really play, hopefully it’ll be in my favor.”
He’ll have an opportunity to display his skills against one of the top cornerbacks in the nation if Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling plays this weekend.
The potential first round draft pick missed the Cavaliers’ opener against Richmond with a hamstring injury, but Virginia coach Mike London said Dowling will travel with the team and will be a game-time decision, according to ESPN Los Angeles.com.
For his part, Johnson hopes Dowling is on the field lined up across from him on Saturday.
"I think that’s every receiver's dream. I know I always dream about it," Johnson said. "If I ever get a challenging corner, I’m ready to challenge him and take it home."
Johnson's sensational showing in Hawaii could jumpstart his Heisman case, but he has a long way to go to get to New York.
The last full-time receiver to win the award, Michigan’s Desmond Howard, caught 19 touchdown passes, rushed for two scores and returned a pair of kicks for scores as he rolled up 1,824 total yards.
But Johnson is not deterred by the volume of statistics he will likely have to amass to become a legitimate Heisman frontrunner.
“I just have to build on it each week,” Johnson said with a smile.
TUESDAY PRACTICE NOTES:
- After starting at defensive end against Hawai’i, Armond Armstead was moved inside to defensive tackle, taking the place of DaJohn Harris with the first team while Nick Perry returned to the lineup at end after missing the first game with an injury. Both Monte and Lane Kiffin said they were “taking a look” at the shift in an attempt to “get the best players on the field.”
- The safeties did a number of drills focused on eliminating passes down the middle – something defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said was unacceptable in Cover 2, regardless of whether a team lines up with four wide receivers or in a formation featuring three tight ends.
- Freshman Dillon Baxter said having to watch the opener on TV was the worst thing he’s been through football-wise other than when he was 7 and his mother took away all of his football trophies after he failed a science test.
- It doesn’t look like Lane Kiffin will waste any time getting Baxter into the offensive gameplan. After being suspended for the season opener, Baxter was in on a number of formations. Kiffin said his main concern for Baxter was holding onto the football: “The first concern always with a freshman in their first game is taking hits, especially him. He hasn’t really been hit,” Kiffin said. “Take care of the ball, and we’ll see what he can do from there.”
- Baxter showed his playmaking ability throughout spring and fall camps, and he did it again Tuesday, making three second-string defenders miss using his quick hips and flitting head-and-shoulder fakes.
- The coaches showed how important the freshman is when the entire staff, offense and defense, lashed out at the defense when Baxter was taken down in a non-tackling team drill. In contrast, only one coach said anything when Curtis McNeal was taken down a few plays later.
- Marc Tyler once again was able to fade out of the spotlight with everyone’s attention on Baxter, but he channeled his own inner Dillon Baxter, catching a ball in the right flat with his back to the defense. He quickly spun to his right, then used a false step to his left before cutting outside and breaking the run up the sideline. The move not only caught the defender off guard but spun him around twice.
- At Hawai’i, Ronald Johnson showed he was dangerous with the ball in his hands. Tuesday, he showed he was dangerous without the ball too, coming up with a jarring block on a wide receiver screen pass that sprung his fellow wideout for a big gain.
- Shareece Wright blamed the secondary’s poor tackling of Hawai’i receivers on being too aggressive: “We were trying to run through them rather than wrapping up and making tackles.”
- Returning to the secondary was cornerback T.J. Bryant. He participated fully for the first time since suffering a facial fracture as a result of a fight with Stanley Havili in preseason workouts.
- Safety Marshall Jones, a redshirt junior, celebrated his 20th birthday Tuesday.
To reach reporter Shotgun Spratling, click here.