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Knee injury doesn't slow down Bears' Johnston
Missouri State junior missed all of 2009 after surgery.
Stephen Johnston glided over the artificial turf at Plaster Sports Complex on Wednesday, shifting directions and accelerating with apparent ease.
Of course, Johnston knows the real test – perhaps more mental than physical – arrives later this spring when he begins absorbing tackles.
“I feel good,” said Missouri State’s junior running back, who’s returning from a season lost with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
“I’m really just trying to get it out of my mind. I’m just trying to just play the game.”
All systems are go for Johnston in Week 1 of spring practice.
And, if the gods of karma do indeed smile on guys overdue for good luck, Johnston’s in business.
Entering last season as the No. 1 running back, Johnston suffered the injury one day into preseason training camp – in a limited-contact blocking drill, of all things.
Johnston already has cleared the mental hurdle of going through his first blocking drills this spring and all went well.
“I kind of had my feet in cement,” he said with a laugh, “but I’m getting better every day. That’s all I can do.”
Coach Terry Allen said he has been impressed by what he has seen during Johnston’s comeback.
“Now I think he and all of us are looking forward to getting a little contact in and see how it all comes out,” Allen said. “That’s the nice thing about spring ball, to be able to work through that type of thing.”
Johnston is part of a four-man mix at running back. Fellow junior Chris Douglas, senior Jonathan Davis and sophomore Mikael Cooper-Falls divided time last season at the position.
No one grabbed the job by the throat, though all showed flashes. Cooper-Falls had 424 yards rushing and two touchdowns; Douglas 325 yards and four TDs; and Davis 284 yards and three TDs.
Kingjack Washington, a starter two years ago, continues to try to regain academic eligibility after missing last season because of grade problems.
“Everything’s looking good and everybody’s competing,” Johnston said. “Of course, all of us want to play and all of us want to start.
“The biggest thing is for everybody to go out and compete and see what happens from there.”
Any role would be better than last season for the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Johnston, who gained 614 yards and scored four TDs his first two seasons.
Watching games from the sideline was difficult on his nerves, he said. A home-field loss to Missouri Valley Conference rival Northern Iowa bothered him more than any other.
“I don’t like UNI and when they came here and did what they did, I couldn’t really handle it,” Johnston said of the Bears’ 35-7 defeat.
“I was very upset at the end of that game.”
That memory was a driving force in rehab. Now Johnston is back and eager to contribute.
Does he feel good luck ought to be coming his way?
“I hope so,” Johnston said. “I’m waiting for it.”
MSU wraps up its first week of practice today before returning to the field next Tuesday. The 15-practice spring wraps up April 24 with the Maroon and White game.