Johnson on the spot: Third-string quarterback finds unexpected spotlight

Sophomore quarteback Chris Johnson scrambles during the second half against Oklahoma State on Nov. 21 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla. Photo credit: Sarah Pyo

Not long after talking with Baylor sophomore quarterback Chris Johnson, it became evident that he’s the ultimate team player.

His humility and willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of the team are what make him invaluable, teammates say.

Johnson doesn’t take on an egotistical demeanor, despite the fact that he’s the leader of the No. 1 offense in college football at the moment.

Instead, Johnson is a player who remains grateful for the situation he’s in and cherishes every opportunity to help the Bears reach a potential Sugar Bowl berth.

The 20-year-old from Bryan credits his upbringing for his unique selflessness and team-player attitude.

“Mainly my parents and the way they raised me, because I’ve been playing sports ever since I could walk,” Johnson said. “They always taught me how to be a leader growing up, but they also taught me before you can be a leader, you have to learn how to follow.”

For someone ranked by as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the nation his senior year of high school, waiting his turn would seem difficult.

One might expect the athletic, 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback to feel entitled and grow impatient.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

While admitting that he has always wanted to play ever since arriving on campus, Johnson said his faith in God and his parents’ influence has prepared him for this moment.

“Having faith in God that my opportunity is going to come at some point and talking to my parents all the time allowed me to be patient,” Johnson said. “They stayed in my ear about never giving up and staying dedicated. They told me, ‘Your time will come and when it does, just walk through it.’”

For the sophomore signal-caller, his time is now. But despite garnering the national spotlight and receiving all the attention, Johnson remains poised and true to himself and his team.

It’s not about him, nor will it ever be, the quarterback said.

“It’s not always about you; it’s about everybody in that locker room,” Johnson said. “Sometimes you have to do things for others so that the whole team can succeed. That’s something that I always keep in the back of my mind.”

Of course, numerous players across the college football landscape sing to the same tune of “team first,” but what makes Johnson special is that he actually means what he says. And he’s proven it.

“Whatever the best position is for me to help us win, that’s what I’ll do,” Johnson said. “If that’s me playing quarterback, then I’ll play quarterback. But if coach Briles thinks it’s me playing wide receiver, then I’ll go play receiver.”

Setting all ego aside, Johnson agreed to move to the wide receiver position right before the Bears’ first game after the coaching staff asked if he would help the squad by swapping positions.

Johnson cheerfully made the change for the advancement of the team.

Later on he was asked to play tight end when the Bears grew thin at that position. And, once again, Johnson sacrificed for the team.

So when starting quarterback Seth Russell injured his neck against Iowa State and was ruled out for the rest of the season, freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham was under center for the Bears for two and half games.

After Stidham fell to injury in the first half against Oklahoma State, Johnson completed the circle and returned to his original position – quarterback.

“The thing you love about Chris is his humility,” head coach Art Briles said. “Just very humble, never changing, he’s going to be the same, day in and day out, whether it’s really good or not so good.”

Now, after bevy of injuries has piled up for Baylor, Johnson sits atop the depth chart as the starting quarterback.

But even being the top quarterback for the most explosive team in the country won’t change his sacrificial attitude. Johnson said he would give up what is, perhaps, the most glorified position in all of sports at the drop of a hat.

And you wouldn’t expect anything less from the altruistic sophomore.

Johnson said he doesn’t see himself as strictly a quarterback and will go wherever he’s needed when the time comes. After all, he’s done it once for Briles already and will do it again if necessary, he said.

It’s that kind of attitude that left Briles speaking of Johnson’s humility and team-first mentality. That’s what makes Johnson a great leader for the football team, Briles said.

“He has a lot of spirit and a lot of energy – every intangible you could ever hope for – he’s just a tremendous young man with a tremendous heart. He’s just a great teammate,” Briles said.

Johnson will make his second start of the season when the Bears face the Texas Longhorns Saturday at McLane Stadium.

After suffering disappointing loss to the TCU Horned Frogs in Fort Worth last weekend, Saturday is a chance for redemption.

Although the loss against TCU was disheartening, the Bears have to remain focused to ensure that they will play in a New Year’s bowl, Johnson said.

“It’s a new week and we still have another game left to play,” Johnson said. “We’re playing to get into the Sugar Bowl, so I like to look at it as this game being even bigger than last game. That mindset helps me to keep my mind clear and be ready to go out there again and get the win.”

Briles is sure of Johnson’s ability and said that he expects continued improvement in his quarterback’s production with his second start. The head coach said after seeing how great of a teammate Johnson is and what he’s gone through, he hopes Johnson can experience a great deal of success.

“We’re excited about his journey; we have a lot of faith and belief in Chris,” Briles said. “He’s earned it. We’re excited about where he can take us this Saturday and where we can help him get to as well.”