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Johnson to suit up for hometown URI
Doug Johnson has big shoes to fill, but he might just be the man for the job.
Johnson, the former Toll Gate High School football star who spent two postgraduate years at Dean College, will suit up for the University of Rhode Island this season. As if that weren’t enough of a transition in itself, Johnson will be partly responsible for filling the void left by one of Rhody’s all-time great players, former linebacker Matt Hansen.
“I worked hard for the last two years to get here – I didn’t have the grades coming out of high school,” Johnson said after URI’s morning practice on Monday. “I worked hard on and off the field and in the classroom, and I got myself into [a Football Championship Subdivision program].”
At 6-foot and 225 pounds, Johnson is a unique hybrid of speed and power. He played running back and linebacker in high school, showcasing his deceiving quickness and bruising hitting style while with the Titans. Johnson will focus on the defensive side of the ball with the Rams, however, and he’ll try to make up for some of the production Hansen so consistently provided during his four years in Kingston.
“[Hansen] was an unbelievable linebacker – I came and watched him a few times,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be tough for our linebackers to fill his [role], but we’re working hard right now. We’ve just got to put the work in and everything should be good.”
“We know that he’s talented and he’s got great explosion,” URI head coach Joe Trainer said of Johnson, a junior. “He’s like a Matt Hansen type in the sense that he’s a second-level linebacker, but he’s very athletic for the position … The thing that jumps out at me is football is so important to him. You love coaching guys like that.”
While the starting lineup isn’t set in stone just yet, Johnson has been getting reps with the first-team defense early in camp. The heightened level of play hasn’t overwhelmed him so far, as he’s made the necessary adjustments throughout his football career.
“The speed of the game is completely different going from high school to junior college and junior college to the [Football Championship Subdivision] level,” Johnson said. “I’m starting to know what I’m supposed to do, my responsibilities. That’s the main thing about [this level] – if everybody handles their responsibilities, it’s going to work out and it will be good.”
“He’s done a great job learning the defenses,” Trainer said. “It’s only been a week [of practicing], but we’ve been incredibly surprised with how far along he is mentally with football intelligence and knowing what he’s doing. It’s not like he’s a blind dog in a meat market that’s just hitting things. He knows concepts and he knows the responsibilities that are being taught, and we’re expecting big things from him.”
That’s not to say that anyone expects Johnson to morph into Hansen – URI’s all-time leading tackler – overnight. But Johnson’s jump from junior college has been nearly seamless, leaving URI confident in its new linebacker with the season rapidly approaching. (The Rams visit Syracuse University in their season opener on Sept. 10.)
“He’s working in with that first [defense], and nobody in that first group has anything on him,” Trainer said. “He just has to continue to progress and he’s going to be a great player for us. We’re excited he’s on our team.”
“My main goal is just to get on the field – I want to be one of those guys everybody can look to,” Johnson said. “[When it’s] fourth-and-1 and [the opposing team] is going for it, I want everybody to look at me and be like, ‘I want you to stuff this guy, I want you to stop him and I want the offense to have the ball [back].’ I want to be that guy.”
By Brendan Dowding, South County Independent