"I'm just ready to ball."
When Texas Longhorn senior wide receiver/kick returner Daje Johnson uttered those words during fall camp, there was a healthy amount of skepticism about his ability to stay out of trouble and remain healthy enough to do exactly that.
So when Johnson made his first big play since the Oklahoma game in 2013 by returning a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in the first half, it was the culmination of an extremely long journey that head coach Charlie Strong said covered a "million miles" back during the spring.
Charlie Strong used to tease Daje Johnson about not making any plays since OU in 2013. No longer. Punt return TD pic.twitter.com/9VpljqWxMz— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) September 13, 2015
When Strong had to suspend Johnson last year for the first four games, he made the Pflugerville Hendrickson product sign a personal conduct contract, but he also made the speedster a promise -- "I'll never give up on you. When it happens I'll be the first one to congratulate you."
And so it went on Saturday, as all the belief and all the superstitious knocking on wood paid off for Strong.
For his part, Johnson wanted to make sure that he rewarded his head coach for believing in him.
"Coach, I will show you I'm the guy you want on the field," Johnson said.
And so it went on Saturday, as all the hard work and maturation paid off for Johnson.
Here's some perspective on his accomplishments:
Daje Johnson returned three punts for 119 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown and a separate 31-yard return that setup another TD. His 85-yarder marked a tie for the fourth-longest punt return in school history, matching his 85-yard TD vs. Oklahoma in 2013. Johnson became just the eighth player at UT to record at least two career punt returns for a touchdown and moved into a tie for fourth on the Longhorn career chart for most punt returns for a TD with two. The school career record of three is shared by three players. The senior added a kickoff return for 35 yards to record a team-best 154 all-purpose yards on just four touches (38.5 avg). Johnson currently leads the Big 12 in punt return average (24.4) and ranks fourth in all-purpose average (133.0 ypg).
Wtih the Longhorns only able to run 38 plays against Rice, in part due to Johnson's big plays in the return game, he wasn't a focal point offensively. However, he flashed against Notre Dame, especially in the wide receiver screen game, so if he can continue to remain focused and healthy, he could become a valuable playmaker for Jay Norvell.