March 31, 2014
The Clint Conque era at Stephen F. Austin has officially begun as the Lumberjacks have commenced on their 2014 spring practice schedule. Each practice session, SFAJacks.com will highlight a different position, today spotlighting the 'Jacks' running backs, led by senior Gus Johnson. The reports will conclude with coverage of the 2014 Spring Game, being held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12th at Homer Bryce Stadium.
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - When it comes to finding a leader among the Stephen F. Austin roster, you don't have to look hard before Gus Johnson emerges to the forefront.
And for good reason. At 5-10 and 225 pounds, Johnson has already established himself as one of the top returning backs in the Southland Conference.
After rushing for 1,061 yards in 2013 - the fifth-best single-season performance in program history - the second team All-SLC senior knows all eyes will be focused on him this fall, with the majority of those eyes coming from beyond the facemask of his teammates.
"It's something that you've got to understand that if you don't push it and give it your all, they aren't going to respect you," said Johnson. "We've got a lot of young players and I know they're looking to me as the senior, so I know it's up to me to set the tone and they'll follow my example."
Out of everyone on the practice field, arguably the one person that has been around Johnson the most and knows him as a person is the one now overseeing the position.
"Gus defines energy, attitude and enthusiasm," said running backs coach Jeremy Moses. "It comes naturally for him and was something he was born with. He's naturally a leader - someone that people naturally gravitate toward, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He has to be controlled now and then, but he is a spark that will definitely ignite our offense this fall like he has done in the past."
As spring practices reach the halfway point, the leadership Johnson portrays becomes evident, but not necessarily through drills and plays. He has taken on a smaller on-field presence in spring workouts, allowing some of the younger backs to take on added reps.
But if you ask him, it will only help SFA moving forward.
"You can throw any of us in there and we'll be ready to go," Johnson said. "There isn't a big drop off between any of us. You can put any of us in there and we can get the job done."
"We talk about Gus Johnson a lot, but the depth of (the running back) position is probably its biggest strength," Moses added. "Joshawa West got a lot of reps as a true freshman and is very exciting and explosive. Fred Ford is a big, explosive guy that can run with some power behind him. Jamarcus Walker, we call him the waterbug. He is spring loaded and it is hard to tackle him in a phone booth. Our transfer from Navarro, Cameron Washington, set state records as a senior and has really added a positive attitude to this group and has opened up a lot of options for us."
Still, it remains a slightly odd sight to see a former Walter Payton Award winner who rewrote the record books as a quarterback getting in the trenches with the ball carriers. But Moses acknowledges the learning experience will be a positive for all involved.
"It's been slightly different, going from talking about coverages to talking about people in the box and blocking schemes," Moses said. "But at the end of the day, the goal is the same - to get the best out of them at practice each day, get good effort and enthusiasm and get better each day to achieve the goals of the team."
With the depth of the running back position adding to the veteran leadership of the wide receivers, SFA is hoping to continue to set the bar when it comes to offensive production. The spring session has been a learning experience for all positions, but Johnson, Moses and the rest of the running back contingent is confident they will be ready to go when August rolls around.
"With those five guys, I believe we have the deepest and most explosive running back group in the Southland Conference," Moses said. "With Gus at the head of it, we'll be pretty tough to stop."
2014 Spring Practice Schedule
Monday, March 24 - Q&A with head coach Clint Conque
Wednesday, March 26 - Quarterbacks
Friday, March 28 - Wide Receivers
Saturday, March 29 - Scrimmage One
Monday, March 31 - Running Backs
Wednesday, April 2 - 8 p.m. (full pads)
Friday, April 4 - 4 p.m. (shells)
Saturday, April 5 - 4 p.m. (scrimmage two - Lufkin H.S.)
Monday, April 7 - 4 p.m. (shells)
Wednesday, April 9 - 8 p.m. (full pads)
Thursday, April 10 - 4 p.m. (shells)
Friday, April 11 - 4 p.m. (helmets)
Saturday, April 12 - 6:30 p.m. (spring game)