Aug. 11, 2013
NACOGDOCHES, Texas -
The 2013 campaign has begun in Nacogdoches, and the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack football team is in full campaign mode. Fans of the purple and white are hoping the Gus Johnson - Fred Ford administration has similar campaigning success to that of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, while opposing defensive coordinators are hoping that Johnson and Ford will tank similar to Michael Dukakis in the late '80s.
The strength of the Johnson-Ford administration is their grassroots efforts, or should we say their ground attack. Johnson burst onto the scene last season as one of the nation's top young running backs. A bulldozer of a back who would assume run over would-be tacklers instead of outrun them, Johnson received an overwhelming show of support from all the districts in the Southland during the 2012 primary earning first-team All-SLC honors following a season that saw him rush for nearly 969 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Johnson was one of only two conference running backs to rush for double-digit touchdowns last season. He also led the conference averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Johnson is more than just a hard worker on the campaign trail. He isn't afraid to tackle the tough issues whether it is national defense - of his quarterback - or providing aid - by keeping defenses from keying on SFA's receivers - Johnson has proven he is up to the task.
"Gus is a complete running back," said head coach J. C. Harper. "Everyone knows how powerful of a runner he is, but he can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Something that goes unnoticed at times is how good of a pass blocker he is because he is so strong. His strength also allows him to pick up positive yards after the catch."
Johnson burst onto the scene during a 2012 debate against Central Arkansas. In the midst of a downpour, Johnson proved too much for the Bears' defense. Johnson helped lead SFA to the win by rushing for 215 yards and four scores. He received conference and national player of the week honors for his efforts. That wouldn't be the last time Johnson hit the 200-yard mark in 2012. In the final debate of 2012, Johnson carried the ball for a career-high 226 yards.
"Gus is now a household name," said running backs coach Nathan Schneider. "He isn't going to sneak up on anyone. He knows he has to continue to come to work everyday. He knows defenses will be looking for him."
Johnson and Ford came to SFA in the same recruiting class, so it is no surprise that Johnson might select Ford as his running mate. A Kirbyville, Texas native, Ford was the team's second-leading rusher following the 2011 seasons. Ford brings more speed to the position, but took advantage of a redshirt season to get stronger. At 6-0, 204 pounds, Ford can't be overlooked by an opposing defense.
"I think the redshirt year was very helpful to Fred," said Schneider. "He has come back focused and ready to play. Fred has the ability to carry the load for our offense if called upon to do so."
Ford finished 2011 with 65 carries for 356 yards, and led the team with five touchdowns. He is coming off an impressive spring that saw him break several long runs.
The 2013 campaign is in full swing, and just like all other campaigns no victor can be named until all the votes are counted. Both Johnson and Ford will be receiving pressure from a veteran with all-conference experience, and a newcomer with big-time speed.
Rarely will a team have an athlete who has received all-conference recognition, and that player not receive a majority of the headlines. That just happens to be the case for 5-10, 186-pound running back Keith Lawson. A hard-worker with that blue-collar mentality, Lawson is one of the hardest working athletes on the team.
"Lawson is one of those athletes every coach wishes he had," said Schneider. "He is a very hard worker, and just a real coachable player. He has been my guy ever since I've been here. Keith has done everything we've asked him to do, and has proven he can get the job done."
Lawson received honorable mention all-conference honors following the 2011 season. He finished the year rushing for nearly 400 yards, and provided the Lumberjacks with another weapon catching passes out of the backfield.
Redshirt freshman Jamarcus Walker might be considered a bit of an outsider to win the top spot during this campaign season, but the Lufkin native brings a skill set that could be very helpful in 2013. Walker brings impressive speed to the backfield, and really turned some heads during spring camp.
"I like to call him scooter bug," said Schneider. "He brings an added dimension of speed to the backfield that will really help us. If he gets out in the open, no one will catch him. Every time he touches the ball he has the ability to break it for a long run. We've added some plays just to be able to utilize his speed."
For any doubters who believe this list of candidates doesn't have the ability, or experience, to be successful and win during the upcoming campaign, they need to remember that the quarterback who decided to come to Nacogdoches to hand them the football came to SFA from the White House ... Whitehouse, Texas that is.