I wonder how history will remember Stephen Johnson. I wonder what the legacy will be for this UK quarterback. I hope as time passes, Big Blue Nation comes to embrace what he has accomplished and earn the respect and admiration that he so rightly deserves.
Maybe the best people to ask about a UK quarterback are former UK quarterbacks.
“I love what he’s doing, and he’s made a huge fan out of me,” said former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen. “All he does is win games. It’s not flashy. He doesn’t put up 300 and 400 yard stat lines. He wins football games as a team.”
“He has one of his biggest supporters in me,” admits former UK quarterback Shane Boyd. “And I can say that with having walked in similar shoes as him in every phase of being a quarterback. Awesome to think the best is still yet to come for him.”
At the time of this writing, Johnson’s record as UK’s primary quarterback for regular season games was 12 wins and 4 losses. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s amazing! After the Cats started last season 0-2, Johnson came in for the injured Drew Barker and led UK to 7 wins in their last 10 games. To start the 2017 season, Johnson led the Cats to a 5-and-1 start.
“I think Stephen is a much improved player,” said former UK All-American quarterback Tim Couch. “He has improved his accuracy and understanding of the offense tremendously from last year. He’s making throws this season that he would miss last year. He’s doing a much better job protecting the football. They (UK) are asking him to do much more this season than throwing the football.”
Most UK football fans consider Couch to be the best Kentucky quarterback of all time. Couch was the #1 draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1999. Couch also won 12 games as the Cats starting quarterback over a two year span, which puts Johnson in very rare company.
“Last year he [Johnson] was very dependent on the running game with Boom [Williams] and Benny [Snell] and making deep throws off play action. Now he can go win a game throwing the football.”
Another former UK quarterback and now a member of the media covering Johnson, Freddie Maggard, had this to say. “There are gamers and then there is Stephen Johnson. The kid’s unflappable and maximizes every ounce of his ability. His accuracy and mechanics have improved. Stephen is a winner both on and off the field.”
It should also be noted that when these interviews were done, Johnson had won four out of five road games, eight out of ten home games, and incredibly six out of ten SEC games. With all the accolades and wins, Johnson still doesn’t seem to get the “love” or the “respect” he deserves.
“For a kid that has a winning record, more touchdowns than interceptions, and some of the biggest plays in UK history, for him to go on like this is mind boggling,” said Lorenzen.
Boyd added, “Very proud of Stephen Johnson. It begins with how over the past year he has been amazing, especially with being thrown in the fire like he was and having success to go with it. Most may not understand how difficult that was, but it’s a testament to his leadership. and who he is as a man.”
“The number of doubters and detractors shrink with every W,” Maggard said. “He should be cherished not disrespected by his own fan base.”
To me, Johnson’s story is one that sports reporters love. Going into the 2016 season, nobody, and I mean nobody, even mentioned that Johnson would ever get any playing time. After he was thrust into the Cats starting role, UK couldn’t afford to take him out. All he did was win….and win…..and win.
“I think his best quality as a quarterback is his leadership skills. The guys believe in him. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing or what bad things happen during the game, they believe Stephen will make the plays to win a game,” said Couch.
Lorenzen summed it up best, “With two minutes to go left in the game, I want him to have the ball. I wish him nothing but the best of luck and about six more victories.”
Truer words never spoken. •