James Johnson, a sophomore receiver for the Huskies, has caught just one pass this season after ranking third on the team a year ago with 39.
On the surface, James Johnson couldn’t ask for many better ways to script the end to his season, playing a bowl game in a stadium about 20 minutes from his home in front of more friends and family than he can count.
Everything that’s led to this point, however, could use a pretty massive rewrite.
Johnson, a sophomore receiver for the Huskies, has caught just one pass this season after ranking third on the team a year ago with 39. In fact, he scored the first touchdown of the Steve Sarkisian era against Louisiana State and loomed as a budding star throughout his freshman season.
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But his sophomore campaign has never gotten off the ground as he suffered an ankle injury midway through training camp that took seven weeks to recover from, then missed the Arizona game with an illness.
By then, other receivers had established their roles in the starting lineup and Johnson has spent most of the last half of the season watching from the sideline.
“Of course it is frustrating,” he said. “But that’s no one’s fault but my own, fate with injuries and everything. It’s no one’s fault but my own. It’s very unfortunate, but hopefully I’ll get back at it and hit the ground running.”
And to that end, coaches say they haven’t noticed any drop in Johnson’s effort. After a recent Holiday Bowl practice, he hung around to catch passes from Nick Montana.
“He comes out every day and works hard,” said receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty. “I really hope he keeps on battling and fights through it for next year.”
Johnson spoke optimistically to reporters early in training camp in August of being bigger and stronger and hoping for a better season than 2009. Instead, a sprained ankle early on lingered into the season.
“Maybe seven weeks into the season I was 100 percent,” he said.
Said Dougherty: “The guy missed five, six weeks right out of training camp. He had a solid spring, so going into the year we were expecting some good things out of him, and obviously after last year you look at a guy who caught 39 balls and it’s kind of like ‘what happened?’ But when you are not healthy, you are not the same person, and that’s what the case was early on, and he just kind of struggled getting back into the flow.”
By the time the ankle was healthy, Johnson missed most of the week leading into the Arizona game with an illness, and missed the game itself.
“A lot of things kind of happened,” Johnson said. “And no excuses. But like I said, just got to keep working. Sometimes things just don’t work out your way.”
By the time Johnson got back, UW’s rotation was set with D’Andre Goodwin taking the spot Johnson held a year ago alongside Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar. And as the season progressed, UW emphasized the run more, which meant fewer sets with three or more receivers, and fewer chances for Johnson to get on the field. He has officially played in seven games, with his only catch coming in garbage time against Syracuse.
“I think he’s had a hard time,” Dougherty said. “He’s kind of just been growing up and maturing this year even though he hasn’t been on the field. It’s been hard for him this year.”
Johnson, however, said he is 100 percent now, and he works with the second team in practice, hoping that maybe his number will get called in the Holiday Bowl, which will be played near his home of Valley Center, Calif.
“There’s no doubt he’s healthy now from a physical standpoint,” Dougherty said. “It’s the mental side of things that he’s really struggled with — his confidence. He’s kind of fought that all year with drops in practice. So he’s just got to keep on working.”
Johnson vows to do just that.
“It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to,” he said of this season. “But you’ve got to keep working and keep working and working and working and just have faith that things will get better next year.”
• Washington practiced Sunday morning in Husky Stadium, changing the plan from going indoors because of the sunny weather. UW will practice again this morning and then take off until heading to San Diego on Thursday.
• Sarkisian said safety Sean Parker is doubtful to be cleared to play in the Holiday Bowl. Parker hasn’t played since the Oregon game due to a stinger.
• Backup defensive tackle Chris Robinson has missed the past two days of practice after banging his knee Friday. Washington has just four scholarship defensive tackles who are not redshirting this season, including Robinson. It’s unclear when he’ll be back.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org