AUSTIN, Texas — Three months ago, a freshman quarterback stood up in front of his Texas Longhorns teammates and unselfishly said that he would do anything to help the team.
Fast forward three months and that freshman quarterback, Roschon Johnson, finished the regular season as the team’s No. 2 running back after sports hernia surgery sidelined fellow freshman Jordan Whittington for each of the final 11 games and the position dealt with a handful of other injuries.
Johnson quickly made his mark as a running back, showing natural vision and decisiveness, ability to finish through contact, and excellent ball security. In addition to running for 600 yards and seven touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry, Johnson added 158 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. His knowledge of the quarterback position after enrolling early allowed him to quickly become the team’s best backfield option picking up blitzes.
“I really feel like it’s where I’m from back in the 409,” Johnson said when asked to explain his success. “Just growing up being the youngest in the family, always being picked on. I would say that kind of anger when I play, I guess that’s where it comes from.”
Johnson is from Port Neches, part of the 409 area code that covers a talent-rich region including Beaumont, often known as the Golden Triangle.
With sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram limited to two carries against Texas Tech on Friday due to an ankle injury suffered last week against Baylor, Johnson stepped forward as the lead back, setting career highs with 23 carries and three touchdowns — it was his first multi-touchdown game for the Longhorns and the first three-touchdown game by a Texas running back since D’Onta Foreman found the end zone three times against Texas Tech in 2016. By averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Johnson also eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second time in his career.
It was a statement performance to an impressive freshman season that took a sharp turn when he volunteered to move to running back in late August, then adjusted quickly enough to the position that he relegated junior Daniel Young to the third-string role once Young returned from a high ankle sprain that helped necessitate Johnson’s move.
A bowl game still looms, but with a month until the Longhorns take the field again, Johnson was asked about his future after the game, saying that the plan is still for him to return to quarterback after the season.
However, that plan won’t become apparent until Johnson sits down with head coach Tom Herman after the bowl game.
“Honestly, I’m mainly going to discuss all the quarterback and running back talk after the season with Coach Herman,” Johnson said. “For this season I’m a running back, so we’re going to take it as that and then after the season we’ll deal with whatever we have to deal with.”
Ranked as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Johnson still has plenty of upside at quarterback, upside that is now buoyed by extensive evidence of just how good he can be in college with the football in his hands.
There were some typical growing pains for Johnson as a quarterback after his early enrollment, including some tweaking of his mechanics, but he’s good enough to compete for the starting job there once Sam Ehlinger exhausts his eligibility.
Beyond Johnson’s personal preferences, the biggest question facing Herman and the program is where Johnson can make the most impact — Whittington should be healthy next season and Texas is currently on track to sign the nation’s No. 2 running back, consensus five-star prospect Bijan Robinson.
At quarterback, the Longhorns have an impressive 2020 recruiting class, too, currently holding commitments from No. 3 dual-threat quarterback Hudson Card of Lake Travis and No. 3 athlete Ja’Quinden Jackson, who could play a variety of positions.
So as much as Johnson might want to return to quarterback, it might not be an easy decision for him after establishing himself as a good college running back and looking at a depth chart that will feature five highly-recruited prospects at the quarterback position next season.