Once upon a time, Texas Longhorns fans regaled each other with tales of the Mythical Fozzy Creature.
Rarely seen, but widely discussed, the Mythical Fozzy Creature eventually emerged from injury oblivion to average 5.8 yards per rush and score nine touchdowns in 2011, including two as a kick returner.
Unfortunately, Fozzy Whittaker’s senior season ended with a knee injury suffered on the unacceptably terrible turf at Faurot Field in Missouri late that season.
Seven years later, fourth-year running back Kirk Johnson hopes to reprise the success of Whittaker all those years ago, but write a more favorable ending.
As tragic as it was that Whittaker only had one healthy season on the Forty Acres, Johnson’s story includes even more adversity — his last carry came late in the 2015 season against Texas Tech and resulted in a knee injury that ultimately derailed his career.
Since then, Johnson has only appeared in one game after suffering numerous injuries and undergoing numerous surgeries.
The son of Longhorns legend Johnnie Johnson underwent a second surgery for a meniscus tear in 2016 that caused him to miss the entire season. A hamstring injury kept him out of the Orange-White game that spring. During the first practice of preseason camp last season, Johnson once again injured his hamstring.
And despite appearing in the season opener against Maryland on special teams, Johnson missed the rest of the season, eventually undergoing surgery on his ankle that prompted him to call it his “last shot”:
Johnson wasn’t able to walk for a month and a half, but continued to attack his rehabilitation with the same ferocity that earned him a reputation as a player who would push his body past its limits even when injured.
Perhaps that single-minded pursuit of playing time was what contributed to the myriad injuries that helped keep Johnson off the field so long.
After years of hard work in the weight room, the result is a 6’0, 220-pound physique that would look at home on an NFL sideline.
To get there, just as Whittaker has in playing in 66 career games since the 2013 season, Johnson will have to make it through preseason camp and stay healthy long enough to make a mark in a running back competition that features six other scholarship competitors.
So far, so good. And that’s no small feat given how quickly Johnson suffered a serious setback last season.
The expectation from head coach Tom Herman is simply that Johnson stay healthy. When the California product is healthy, a source told The Football Brainiacs that Johnson is one of the best running backs on the roster.
“He’s really talented, athletic, has tree trunks for legs, can move and cut and has some straight-line speed,” Herman said.
The Longhorns head coach added that Johnson is “like a freshman from the standpoint of taking it from the playbook to the field.”
Right now, reports indicate that Johnson is working with the second tier of running backs on the roster, behind sophomore Daniel Young, graduate transfer Tre Watson, and freshman Keaontay Ingram.
If Johnson’s talent shines through, though, he could follow the same path as Whittaker in emerging as a legitimate threat after spending years dealing with injuries.
Kirko’s been grinding for that.