‘Energizer Bunny’ Gary Johnson enjoying Longhorns’ hard-hitting winning

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Linebacker Gary Johnson is the engine cranking the Longhorns defense this season (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

Veteran LB Johnson is enjoying the Longhorns "showing everyone what kind of defense we can be"


By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer

AUSTIN, Texas — Longhorns linebacker Gary Johnson is very up front about how he feels about the quarterbacks and running backs he works to stop each game.

His thoughts are worn prominently on his sleeve, and on his Twitter handle — where he declares “I Hate QB’s & RB’s."

The fact that Johnson is playing with the notion that he has to make up being ejected after being flagged for a targeting penalty on a tackle in the Longhorns’ season-opening loss to Maryland has made him even hungrier to inflict his will on the opposition’s offense.

Since missing the final three quarters of that loss, Johnson has been a man on a mission. He has racked up 25 tackles — 16 of them unassisted — and registered a sack among his six tackles for a loss for 21 yards along with a pair of quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.

“Over these past two weeks we are showing everyone what kind of defense we can be. It’s all about letting loose, trusting each other and having fun," Johnson said.

'Energizer Bunny' buoying defensive domination

Texas coach Tom Herman said Johnson is just playing the way he always plays, like a man who hates quarterbacks and running backs (and anyone else who gets in his way).

“I don't think it has anything to do with what happened in the first game,” Herman said of Johnson’s play the past three weeks. “That's just who Gary is, man. Again, I'm glad he's on our team, because he can run and hit, and he's like the Energizer Bunny — he keeps going and going." [place_ad_1]

A senior on a Texas team full of youth, Johnson came to the Longhorns last year after playing at Dodge City (Kansas) Community College. In a short time at Texas he has already asserted himself as the Longhorns’ do-everything linebacker, and as one of the team’s leaders. At 6 feet and 230 pounds, he might be a little undersized to be a constant run stuffer, but plays bigger than his size and hits as hard as anyone in college football.

“The one thing that's really hard to teach, if at all, is physicality,” Herman said. "You've got to really like hitting to be a linebacker, to be good. Gary does."

It has shown.

Fierce finesse

In their win over USC, the Longhorns’ defense was stout, holding the Trojans to minus-5 rushing yards on 16 attempts, despite allowing a 23-yard touchdown rush in the first quarter. After falling behind, 14-3, with 33 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the UT defense shut out USC the rest of the game, and Texas scored the last 34 points for the win.

“There's never been a great inside linebacker that you've said, ‘Wow, his finesse game is awesome.’ It doesn't happen," Herman said. "The greatest linebackers in the history of our sport have been fierce hitters and Gary (Johnson) is one of those guys. He loves doing it and he's got a natural knack for the ball.”

He garnered Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors two weeks ago after recording four tackles for loss in Texas’ victory over 22nd-ranked USC, the most for a Texas player in a single game since 2014. Johnson then registered 11 tackles, one for them for a loss, in the win last Saturday against No. 17 TCU.

“I take every game as a challenge and I want to make an impact every time I take the field,” Johnson said. “People always ask me about how fast I am, but I only need to be fast enough to get to the ball carriers and make a play when I get there."

Covering all angles

A year ago Texas narrowly held of the Wildcats at DKR in a 40-34 overtime win.

Heading into Manahattan, Kan., Saturday, with the 'Horns trying to shut down Kansas State and buck any past trends or history of losing in the Wildcats' home, Johnson said he sees the UT defense more than ready to dominate game after game, home or away.

“Playing defense is about being tough," Johnson said. "It’s about running as hard as you can to the football on every play and it’s about making hits that can change a game. That’s what I’m always trying to do.” [place_ad_1]

Johnson played some on the offensive side of the ball as a prep star in Douglas, Ala., but it didn’t take him long to figure out it was a lot more fun doing the hitting than being the one getting hit.

That might be how and why Johnson sees all the angles on the field, and has the speed and tenacity to cover the field from sideline-to-sideline.

“Somebody tried to hurt me and ever since then I didn't want to play offense,” Johnson said. “I finished my senior year out playing running back but after that I just got the mentality that I just want to play linebacker.

"I just stuck with it ever since."

Steve Habel

Steve Habel is a senior contributing writer for Horns Illustrated. He has covered Texas sports since 1989 and was this magazine’s senior editor for 24 years. You can follow him on twitter @stevehabel .

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