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B.J. Johnson works to earn playing time

Scrimmage today at Paulson Stadium

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B.J. Johnson works to earn playing time

Georgia Southern wide receiver B.J. Johnson, top, makes a leaping catch over a defender during practice on April 2.

   Georgia Southern freshman wide receiver B.J. Johnson looks at how his teammates, Zach Walker and Tray Butler, performed when they were freshmen and said he believes he can make a similar impact as a rookie.
    Walker played in 12 games and made 12 catches for 220 yards and a touchdown. Butler, as a freshman in 2010, played in 15 games (starting in two) and made 13 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
    “That’s a big goal of mine,” Johnson said. “In this offense, we rotate a lot of receivers in. I’m in the mix of the rotation so, hopefully, I’ll get some playing time.”
    Johnson is off to an impressive start. He enters today’s 9:30 a.m. scrimmage at Paulson Stadium, the Eagles’ second of spring practice, hoping to improve upon or at least duplicate his performance in last Saturday’s scrimmage. The 6-foot, 190-pound Woodruff, S.C., native caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ezayi “Izzy” Youyoute. He caught a 60-yard pass from quarterback Prince McJunkins to set up B-back William Banks’ touchdown run.
    GSU head coach Jeff Monken said Johnson has tremendous potential.
    “Tray Butler played as a freshman two years ago, and Zach Walker played this past fall as a true freshman,” Monken said. “That doesn’t concern us in terms of (Johnson’s) age. It will just be whether he can sort it all out in terms of the assignments and then be able to perform and make plays.
    “We’ve got some guys that have played: (Mitch) Williford and (Patrick) Barker, Kentrellis Showers, Zach Walker and a new guy like B.J. (Johnson). There are certainly some guys that I think have the ability to go get the ball if we throw it out there.”
    Johnson was part of GSU’s 2011 signing class. He gray-shirted last season, meaning he delayed his enrollment a semester so that his four-year eligibility clock would not start ticking until he arrived on campus during the second semester. He arrived in January.
    “I got gray-shirted, so I got thrown into the fire during spring practice,” Johnson said. “But I pay attention during meetings and ask a lot of questions and just make sure every rep I do in practice is full speed.
    “They’ve got me right now going with the second group, but I still have a lot to learn in this offense. I’m still out there missing assignments. I’ve got to get my effort better. But whatever my role is, special teams or wherever they put me, I’ll be ready to go.”
    Johnson was seemingly unstoppable at Woodruff High School. As a receiver in a spread offense, he set the school’s career records with 165 catches for 2,780 yards and 30 touchdowns. He was a two-time all-state selection.
    As a junior, Johnson set Woodruff’s single-season records with 63 catches for 982 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a senior, he broke his own school records, making 80 catches for 1,424 yards and 15 touchdowns.
    In Woodruff’s 42-7 victory over previously unbeaten Mid-Carolina on Oct. 22, 2010, Johnson set Woodruff single-game records for catches (12) and receiving yards (270) while scoring three touchdowns.
    “In high school, the coach (Brian Lane) gave us a wide area, and you just lined up,” Johnson said of play receiver. “But here you have to be on your spot. The toughest part is probably just the plays. There are so many of them.
    “As receivers in this (triple-option) offense, we do a lot of blocking. We’ve got to know who to block and when to crack, when it’s going to be an outside run or an inside run. You’ve got to know where to line up because, in our offense, backs cut up a lot so you have to be ready in case they cut back across the field.”
    Johnson originally gave a verbal commitment to Western Carolina during the summer of 2010, but he decided in January 2011 to attend GSU when he was in Statesboro on a recruiting visit.
    “Even though we don’t throw the ball a lot, I still want to play wide receiver,” he said. “That’s what they recruited me for. Coach (Monken) told me he likes my abilities on offense.”
    Following GSU’s practice Monday, Monken raved about a play Johnson made an hour earlier.
    “He made a great catch over here in option drill today,” Monken said. “Went over the top of somebody to get it.
    “He’s in his first semester in school and he’s just trying like crazy to learn the offense and, hopefully, it’s an indication that he’s got some athletic ability. We’ll just see. We’ll see how he develops.”
    Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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