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Get to know your new quarterback, Stephen Johnson


With the news that Drew Barker will be out at least a month with a back injury, the reins of the Kentucky offense are now firmly in Stephen Johnson’s hands. When Barker went down vs. New Mexico State, Johnson more than performed ably in his place; he reenergized the Kentucky offense, leading the Cats to 692 total yards, the second most in any game in the program’s history. Johnson was so impressive that, even if Barker was able to go this week, most fans would agree that Johnson should probably get the starting nod anyways.

When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy that the fate of this season lies in the hands of a player none of us had heard of last season. With that in mind, I spent my day learning all about Stephen Johnson.

Darin Hinshaw found him

Who should you thank for bringing Johnson to Kentucky? Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw. Right before Hinshaw was hired, Patrick Towles announced he was transferring, meaning that when Hinshaw got to Lexington, his first task was to find a backup quarterback with experience in case Drew Barker went down. After evaluating several JuCo quarterbacks, Hinshaw focused on Stephen Johnson out of College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California.

“In the process I thought he was the best,” Hinshaw said of Johnson earlier this week. “For what we do offensively, I said, ‘this kid can really be a weapon.’”

“Coach Hinshaw did a heck of a job. We definitely felt like we needed some experience there and we did look around,” Stoops said yesterday. “Once they brought in Stephen, and we looked at him, and brought him in on a visit, we were sold. I’m sure glad we have him right now.“

…says every UK football fan in the Bluegrass.

He’s a California boy

Johnson was born in Inglewood, California and attended Los Osos High in Rancho Cucamonga. He was recruited to Grambling State by then head coach Doug Williams, a former NFL quarterback. He sat out his freshman year in 2013, during which Williams was fired, and started the first four games in 2014 before suffering a high ankle sprain. Johnson was never able to get his starting job back, so in 2015, he looked elsewhere, finally settling on College of the Desert, coached by Jack Steptoe, who coached Johnson in some camps during high school and ultimately steered him towards Grambling State. If you’re still wondering why College of the Desert, I mean, look at it:

Who wouldn’t want to go to school there?

At College of the Desert, he ran the spread to perfection

In 2015, Johnson threw for 3,210 yards and a state-leading 34 touchdowns along with eight touchdowns rushing. All in all, he accumulated 3,639 yards of total offense while leading the Roadrunners to 37.5 points per game, a 6-4 record, and a share of the league title for the first time in over a decade. Johnson was named Mountain America Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, which earned him several offers from Division I programs across the country.

He turned down Hawaii to come to Kentucky

Johnson ultimately picked Kentucky over Arkansas State and Hawaii, the latter of which you may know looks like this:

Again, who wouldn’t want to go to school there? I love Kentucky as much as anyone, but if you’re going to offer me the chance to live in Hawaii for two years for free, I’m taking it. Thankfully, Johnson is much more pragmatic than me when it comes to such things and chose the chance to play at an SEC school over rainbows and palm trees. He was also smart enough to take an official visit to Hawaii before his making his decision, even if he claimed it was strictly business.

“It was a quick visit, Saturday to Sunday,” Johnson told the Warrior Sports Network. “I really enjoyed it. I loved my visit while I was there. It’s a beautiful place and it seems like there is great football there. I didn’t even go on the beach. My mindset while I was there was that it was a business trip. No parties or anything like that, just sitting down with the coaches to talk about philosophy and schemes to find out if it would be the right spot for me.”

If you ever doubt Johnson’s loyalty, just remember that he chose us over paradise.

He’s a math geek

I am horrible at math, so I have a lot of respect for people who are good at it. In the UK Football media guide, Johnson says his non-sports talent is “excelling at math” and that dream job other than playing in the NFL is banking. Not only that, he’s an agricultural economics major, which means, one day, he might be able to tell us what a hill of beans costs.

I could probably twist Johnson’s love of numbers into an explanation for why he is so calm and pragmatic on the field, but really, I just like when players admit they’re a little bit nerdy.

He can move the ball with his arm or his legs

Coming in, we knew Johnson was a dual-threat quarterback that could keep defenses honest with his feet, but I especially admire his toughness on this run:

Johnson showed he can handle screens, short passes, etc., but one of the few knocks on his game coming into the season was his ability to throw the long ball. Johnson proved everyone wrong with this 54-bomb to Jeff Badet:

Under his hand, UK put up its first 300 yards passing/300 yards rushing game maybe ever

Here’s a fun stat: going back to at least 1985, Saturday’s game was the first time that Kentucky has had at least 300 rushing yards and at least 300 passing yards in the same game. I’d argue that Johnson moved UK’s offense better than any quarterback in the Mark Stoops era. Yes, it was against New Mexico State, a team ranked 121st in total defense that probably didn’t prepare to face him, but still, UK’s offense looked really, really good with Johnson at the helm. After getting some first drive jitters out of the way, Johnson rolled, completing 17-22 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball ten times for 51 yards and helped get the running game going, handing the ball off to Boom Williams and Benny Snell, who combined for 325 yards and five touchdowns. For some reason, everything that didn’t work with UK’s offense under Drew Barker suddenly worked under Johnson.

What Johnson can do against an SEC defense that’s had a whole week to prepare for him remains to be seen, but Saturday was promising to say the least.

He’s his biggest critic

We’ve outlined why Johnson’s performance on Saturday was so impressive, but if you ask him, it was just alright.

“I think I did alright,” he said Saturday night. “There are a few things I can change, a few throws. I think I missed my first drive, but other than that, as a team, I thought we did really well.”

After looking at tape, he conceded that he played “pretty well, I guess.”

“I was a little bit pleased,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. “For me, I’m my own greatest critic. I want to go 100 for 100 completions and have no incompletions at all and execute everything perfectly, have every perfect pass. But it went pretty well, I guess.”

You might expect a different response from a kid who’s played at three different schools in three years and just got his first taste of the spotlight, but we’re quickly finding out that just who Stephen is: calm, poised, and ready to go.

“It comes from my parents, first of all,” Johnson said of his calm demeanor. “They always raised me to be as humble as I can, and be as calm as I can, and trust the Lord in everything that I do. That’s what I try to do at all times, and I guess that’s where my confidence comes from.”

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

22 Comments for Get to know your new quarterback, Stephen Johnson

  1. football school
    10:59 pm September 22, 2016 Permalink

    Sounds like a homerun recruit! Go CATS!!! Beat the Cocks!!!

  2. Souf beach Lou
    11:34 pm September 22, 2016 Permalink

    All I want to know is this..Did he get knock out for some dime piece ho at EK? No? Then we good

  3. Souf beach Lou
    11:38 pm September 22, 2016 Permalink

    He didn’t get knock out at EKU = winner

  4. Blueheart
    6:06 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    How could you not love this kid.

  5. BluKudzu
    7:17 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    Dude’s got it goin’ on. Good for him. I agree with Stoops, “glad he is here.” Nice job Hinshaw.

  6. jeff2tonya
    7:50 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    Looks like we got a good one with Johnson at QB……Now is time for a new DC. Come on Stoops. Our defense is the laughing stock of CFB. Although, it may be time for a new AD and HC. I live in Louisville and I am a UK fan for life but U of L football is exciting to watch.

    • CATandMONKEY
      9:20 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

      Our defense and position as laughing stock may extend far beyond college football. Pretty certain there are 6th graders snickering at our inability to tackle anyone until they are 15 yards into our secondary, having broken through three gimme tackle opportunities.

  7. ClutchCargo
    8:17 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    I’m glad to have people like this on the team, starter or 3rd stringer, doesn’t even matter. He seems to have the genuine respect of his teammates, and that’s great to see.

  8. Sentient Third Eye
    8:48 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    I love this guy’s personality. He seems unflappable and well-grounded. He’s not only producing (so far) on the field, but he sounds like the kind of leader the team needs in order to finally, as Stoops said, grow up.

  9. ClutchCargo
    8:53 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    I just hope the OL steps up with the protection now. Not sure how much physical abuse Johnson can take with that frame.

  10. secrick
    9:01 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    We will see how much we like this guy Sat. night about 10, hopefully we are still big fans. Sounds like a great kid and a great team mate .

    • ClutchCargo
      9:38 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

      Nothing short of ripping open his dress shirt to expose a U of L t-shirt while flashing the L’s during the Cat Walk will change my opinion.

  11. Patches
    9:04 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    Right now he is the best QB Stoops has had since he has been here and he would never be here if not for the OC change with Hinshaw in the mix. Cats need a defense now but not this year it seems.

  12. CATandMONKEY
    9:23 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    Wishing success for Johnson and the team on Saturday. If the D can simply NOT suck, we have a fair chance for a W.

  13. Nerds
    10:07 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    UK fans now: “Johnson is the greatest guy in history. I want to have his babies.”

    UK fans after a couple of losses: “Bring back Barker! I hope Johnson has a vasectomy!”

    • Patches
      11:39 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

      Hey Nerds are you really that stupid? Johnson in one game has outpaced Barker’s career stats. I was one who wanted Johnson before the season even started knowing Barker is not even close to being an SEC quarterback.

    • Nerds
      1:47 pm September 23, 2016 Permalink

      Patches – Clearly you are incapable of reading and comprehending anything beyond face value. Thank you for throwing in the fact that you wanted Johnson to start the season instead of Barker. Perhaps you should shoot Stoops an email so he’ll know to consult with you before making a decision of that caliber.

  14. It was me Stoops the whole time
    11:32 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    I do think we’re putting the cart a little before the horse here. He looked awful vs Florida and I believe a healthy Barker would have put up giant numbers vs that beer league softball group we played last Saturday. I think this is the more interesting question. If Johnson fails it looks like Stoops’ ass will blister but if he succeeds then why the hell couldn’t we figure out that he was the better QB to begin with? Either way Stoops looks incompetent again. I have to get back to work where unlike Stoops I have to be productive to get paid.

    • Patches
      11:43 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

      Big numbers last week? LOL just like an interception on his first pass.

  15. Patches
    11:42 am September 23, 2016 Permalink

    Just so simple Johnson was terrific against a bad team and got UK their only score against the Gators. Barker has done nothing but shoot blanks with more interceptions than touchdowns. How can it be looked at any other way?

    • It was me Stoops the whole time
      12:00 pm September 23, 2016 Permalink

      Well Barker has not been healthy per Stoops for several weeks. Johnson scored on Florida’s twos and most of that was on one fluky pass to Badet. I’m not saying either one is better or worse. I’m saying that New Mexico St looks like they are wading through pudding when they run. They are SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOW. I think UK was going to score lots of points on them even with Morgan Newton at QB. But under the assumption that Johnson is awesome (like most people on this site seem to believe) then why couldn’t Stoops and Friends figure that out? I have to get back to work where unlike Stoops I have to be productive to get paid.

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