What took place with 10:31 remaining in the second quarter of the 42-31 win for the Texas Longhorns over the West Virginia Mountaineers was borderline miraculous.
It was a simple six-yard run on 2nd and 10, but the fact that the chains didn’t move didn’t matter. In that moment, all that really mattered was that after suffering injury after injury and continually enduring the seemingly countless hours of effort and perseverance that have since become the story of his days in burnt orange, senior running back Kirk Johnson enjoyed his first carry since 2015.
A quick cut to the right and a flash of the burst that once made Johnson such an intriguing prospect later and just like that, the fifth-year senior achieved a feat — something as simple as a carry — that far too often seemed as if it would only continue to elude him, day by day, injury by injury.
“1,409 days…And multiple surgeries I finally got the opportunity to step back on the field on offense and run that rock with representing the best logo and best team in the country,” Johnson wrote in an Instagram post.
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1,409 Days...And multiple surgeries I finally got the opportunity to step back on the field on offense and run that rock with representing the best Logo and best team in the country . Those of you who know my story, and all I’ve been through the last 4 years know how big this first carry was for me after getting hurt my freshman year. After working so hard, after more Major setbacks, after lack of opportunities and a lot more made everyday a struggle. I want to say thanks to the people that have always supported me and have been in my corner the last few years! ✊ Without y’all idk where I would be. Now I’m even more excited and hungry for my next opportunity can’t wait till next time! Let’s get it! #Goalup
The last time Johnson ran the rock against Texas Tech on Nov. 26, 2015, he suffered a knee injury that ultimately became the first of many major injuries that have prevented him from doing exactly what he was recruited to Texas to do — run the ball.
Since then, in addition to the aforementioned knee injury, Johnson underwent a second surgery for a meniscus tear in 2016 that caused him to miss the entire season. He then missed the Orange-White spring game in 2017 due to a hamstring injury, and just a few months later, Johnson suffered another hamstring injury during the first day of fall camp before missing all but the Maryland game after undergoing surgery on his ankle, which prompted Johnson to call that ailment his “last shot.”
Johnson finally enjoyed full health last season, but his only opportunities came on special teams. That was set to change entering his final season on the Forty Acres with, in addition to health, the departures of Toneil Carter and Kyle Porter paving the way for an increased workload as a rotational back behind sophomore Keaontay Ingram.
And then came the shoulder sprain midway through fall camp, which sent Johnson back to the sidelines for six more weeks, forcing him to once again serve as a spectator for the first four games of the season.
Once those six weeks were up, though, Johnson returned, and this time around he got to run with the rock for the first time in nearly four years.
Texas head coach Tom Herman, who was still weeks from completing his first season as a head coach at Houston the last time Johnson received a carry, recognized the magnitude of that moment for Johnson.
“I pulled him aside right before practice and said, ‘Man, I didn’t realize that,’” Herman said of Johnson’s first attempt against West Virginia being his first carry since 2015. “I looked him in the eye and gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him. And had a little moment.
“It’s an awesome story to go through all of the things that he has gone through in his career here,” Herman added. “Ninety-nine percent of us would have said enough is enough — ‘I’m good, I’m going to walk away and get my degree from Texas and go be Joe Citizen,’ and he didn’t because he loves this place. He loves his teammates. He loves the game of football. It is just a really, really special story.”
After previously having just eight career carries to his name, Johnson finished the West Virginia game with four attempts for 15 yards. It may not be the most impressive stat line on paper, but in reality, the first of those four carries was one that Johnson, after enduring injury after injury, year after year, will likely never forget.