A Great Catch: Ron Johnson is leaving his mark on the Gopher football program

Go Gophers!
Go Gophers!

Go Gophers!

Football's greatest receivers all share a tremendous desire for the ball. They want the ball often and in clutch situations. Senior wide receiver Ron Johnson is no different and his remarkable achievements as a Golden Gopher show how much he truly covets being the go-to-guy in clutch situations.

Johnson, a Biletnekoff Award candidate as the nation's top wideout, is the son of former NFL defensive back Ron Johnson, Sr. The younger Johnson attributes much of his success to his father who played in two Super Bowls as a Pittsburgh Steeler. "He's helped me as far as the aspects of the game. Anything from defense, how to end the game, how to begin the game, how to get the mental focus of the game and watching film," Johnson acknowledges.

Ron also credits former teammates Tyrone Carter, Luke Leverson, and his cousin, Karon Riley, for his growth as a player. "Tyrone Carter was a big help as far as telling me about the (college) game. Karon Riley, being my cousin, he helped me the whole way. Luke Leverson was a great help as far as how to be a receiver, what to do and what not to do," Johnson said.

Now a senior captain, Johnson has earned even greater respect among teammates, coaches, opponents and fans with his exemplary work ethic and leadership ability. He is aware of the responsibilities as a team captain and his influence on the younger members of the team. The responsibility that accompanies being a senior as well as a team captain is something Johnson takes very seriously. "Being a senior and team captain, I realize that a lot of freshmen look up to me and you can't do the silly things you used to do. You can still have fun but you have to lead by example," Johnson declares.

Ron Johnson has patterned his game after Tampa Bay Buccaneer all-pro receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Both Johnsons possess the physical size that drive defensive coordinators crazy and fluid body control that leave defensive backs virtually defenseless. Ron even changed his number from 89 to 3 partially because of his admiration of Keyshawn. Keyshawn Johnson's famous quote, "Just give me the damn ball" is a philosophy that Ron Johnsoncan attest to. Ron is confident he can make a play whenever the team needs him. He sees the same desire in Keyshawn. "He's a big receiver and a guy I love to watch. I've tried to sculpt my game around his. He has confidence and knows that he can make the play," Ron mentions.

When the game is on the line, or the team needs a big play, Ron Johnsonis always ready to rise to the occasion. Johnson's tremendous work ethic has enabled him to succeed off the field as well. During his sophomore season, he was named to the Academic All-Big Ten team. This December, he will graduate with a degree in business, education and speech after only three and a half years of study. "Graduating in three and a half years, that's a big thing for me. I buckled down and did the things I needed to do to graduate ahead of time. That's a great accomplishment that I can hang up on the wall after football, whether its tomorrow or ten years from now. Either way when I look back on my degree I know I'll be able to use it for something useful," Johnson says.

One of Johnson's most cherished on the field accomplishments is his streak of consecutive games with a reception. Johnson has caught a ball in 40 consecutive games, a Golden Gopher record and current nation-leading streak. With six or seven more games to go in the season, Johnson strives to keep the streak alive and finish his career with a reception in every game he has played in, something no Golden Gopher has ever done before. He recently broke Tutu Atwell's career reception record with a 35-yard touchdown against Northwestern. He also is the Maroon and Gold record holder for single season receiving yards and touchdown receptions. He has 25 career touchdown receptions, eight more than the next closest Golden Gopher.

Johnson nearly left Gold Country for the NFL last winter, but after much consideration, he decided it wasn't his time to go. "It just felt right. It was one of those things where you wake up in the morning and I wasn't ready to leave yet. I was having too much fun. I talked to my family and they said the decision was on me and that I had to live with it," Johnson remembers. His decision to stay positioned him to leave as Minnesota's greatest receiver in history. Over his four-year career, Johnson has been the part of many great Golden Gopher moments. Those that stand out most are the upset against Penn State in 1999, and last season's wins over Ohio State and Iowa. "I remember Penn State, being number two in the country, we knocked them off and I had a big touchdown in that game," Johnson recalls. "Ohio State was a big game last year. We hadn't beaten them in 51 years and we beat them there. I had a lot of catches on Nate Clements who ended up being the number one corner being taken in the draft. Against Iowa, I had two touchdowns that propelled us to go to a bowl game."

When he does play his final game, Johnson hopes to be remembered as a man who loved football. He hopes that the younger players continue to play hard, concentrate, pay attention to the coaches, and do what they're supposed to do on and off the field. Johnson knows that there will be many things he'll miss when his Maroon and Gold playing days are over. "The atmosphere, being around the guys, being around the team, joking around in the lockerroom. Being in Minnesota I'll miss that," Johnson states.

With all that he has accomplished here in Gold Country, many will miss him as well and conclude that Ron Johnsonwas one great catch.