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Texas Longhorns RB coach Anthony Johnson excited to be back at Running Back U

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Forget about DBU, Johnson says -- it was running backs who brought those Heisman trophies back to Austin.

No offense to all the fantastic defensive backs who have played for the Texas Longhorns, but new running backs coach Anthony Johnson believes it's all about the ball carriers in burnt orange and white.

"I played the position here. I was here during a time when there was a great running back in Cedric Benson when I played here and I got a chance to see and work with Jamaal Charles. I mean, this is Running Back U," Johnson told TexasSports.com after his introduction to the media on Monday.

"I know the DBs kinda came up with that deal talking about this is DBU -- this is Running Back U and it always will be. It speaks for itself. You talk about Earl Campbell, you talk about Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes. You can keep going on and on."

As point of fact -- Campbell and Williams won the only two Heisman trophies in Longhorns history and remain two of the most nationally recognizable names for casual college football fans as a result.

At one point, Johnson was an heir apparent to that legacy, arriving in Austin in 2001 as a highly-successful high school running back out of Jefferson. But it didn't take long before his body started to give out on him.

"My first morning of two-a-days I broke my foot and had surgery," Johnson said. "So I was out the first half of the season, came back and was on scout team. Came back next spring for my redshirt freshman year, had an outstanding spring, come back in the fall, break my foot again."

Eight times, in fact, Johnson broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot, ultimately resulting in Johnson carrying the ball less than 20 times at Texas. And the East Texas native made what he considered to be the only logical move -- he went to head coach Mack Brown and said that he wanted to get into coaching, becoming a student assistant. After all, Johnson had wanted to get into coaching since peewee football, when he would draw up plays and give them to his coach.

So Johnson researched statistics for high school football recruits to help the staff communicate effectively with prospects in mailers. He helped then-graduate assistant Major Applewhite with any little odd jobs that might come up. He paid attention to details. All of them, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

And he kept on drawing up plays, just as he had through middle school and into high school.

After returning to Jefferson for one year as an assistant coach in 2006, Johnson came back to Austin to serve as a quality control assistant for three years. In 2010, after Willie Fritz took over at Sam Houston State, his advocates started to put in work.

There was Brown calling Fritz multiple times. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Assistant head coach/running backs coach Major Applewhite. On and on. They wouldn't leave Fritz alone -- he had no choice but to conduct an interview with the enthusiastic young assistant who sparked such loyalty in his bosses, officially launching Johnson's coaching career when he hired Johnson while leaving Austin after speaking with him at the football stadium during a previously-planned trip for the UIL state championships.

After working with Johnson for four years, Fritz now calls him the "total package."

Back in Austin after the successful stint at Sam Houston State and his time at Toledo, Johnson said Monday that he knew he would return at some point -- "I just didn't know when," he said -- and, in his telling, words can't even do the feeling justice. His high energy level, which is readily apparent when he speaks about Texas, should be infectious in the running backs room and on the recruiting trail.

But Johnson isn't excited merely because he's back at his alma mater. He's taken a look at the talent in his position room, and being a student of Running Back U, he's impressed with what he's going to work with moving forward.

"Got quite a few guys, young guys too that are unbelievable," he said. "I was looking at those guys the other day and was just trying to think back to when the University of Texas has had two running backs of that caliber. Of size, speed, strength, stuff like that."

Johnson knows that junior D'Onta Foreman and sophomore Chris Warren have the speed to take it the distance on any given play. He knows they have the ability to make defenders miss in the hole. And they're willing to a put a shoulder down and truck an opponent, too.

"They can do it all," Johnson said. "I think they're complete running backs."

Now he just has to make sure that they become a reflection of him as a coach by learning how to do all the little things that made Johnathan Gray to subtly valuable last year and difficult to take off the field despite his limited production as a runner. Fortunately, that whole thing with attention to detail comes into play in that regard.

"My coaching philosophies are number one -- lot of effort, have to have great ball security, physical, just a relentless effort of trying to score, every inch counts," Johnson said. "That's pretty much it, I think that's what it starts with. It's just coming out with unbelievable effort, pushing yourself to another level. That's each and everyday in practice, and that's where it starts and you're striving to be the best."

If that happens for Johnson with his running backs, and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's attack comes together with the balance both want by featuring that next generation of stars at Running Back U, well, Johnson has seen this type of energy at Texas before. And it resulted in a national championship.

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