VAUGHT: Johnson trying to stay optimistic

Last year was like a dream come true for offensive lineman Christian Johnson. He started every game, Kentucky had a winning record and went to a bowl game, and his younger brother, Micah, joined him at Kentucky.

He expected bigger and better things this year. Instead, he was suspended in the spring for academic reasons and even though UK is 5-1, he has not been in the starting lineup this season as he lost his position to Zipp Duncan.

Johnson's playing time increased in Thursday's loss at South Carolina. Yet even that performance drew guarded praise from coach Rich Brooks.

"Christian did some good things. His limitations continue to be on the perimeter. We want him to try and trim down, which he is has not been successful at. But he is a physical presence inside," Brooks said.

Johnson has tried to remain optimistic.

"I am pretty sure better times are ahead. I feel like I am working hard. I am getting better in the games from what the coaches are telling me. It's just that you could say I am still in the doghouse and I still have to lose more weight," Johnson said.

"The thing is, I don't want to be selfish. It is about the team. If the team is winning, I am happy. The better person is going to play, or the person the coaches want to play is going to play. It's plain and simple.

"I have goals and things I have to accomplish. I am not satisfied if I don't accomplish my goals. I feel like I am almost failing right now. I am trying not to get down on myself, but that's just how high of expectations I have. I want to make my family proud, make my brother proud and everybody else proud. I just feel like I am not doing it right now."

Offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins says Johnson is still "capable of being a starter" and could be before the year ends.

"He has all the tools. He just has to get everything together. I think he is working at it. He is working on getting better, losing his weight. You just have to wait and see."

Has he slipped from last year or did other guys just get that much better?

"They did not get that much better. There are just certain things he knows he has to do to play," Heggins said.

Duncan and Jason Leger, the other starting guard, have been praised for their ability to get outside and block. Brooks obviously thinks Johnson's weight has been a problem with his ability to run and get in front of runners.

"I weigh less than what I did last year. In the bowl game, I was 342. I have been around 327, which is about 15 pounds less, this year. I am losing weight. It is almost like, I don't know. I feel like I am in between a rock and a hard place and not knowing what to do," Johnson said. "I feel like I am scratching and digging to get out of the doghouse. I am trying to do everything I am supposed to do.

"My parents told me that some people work hard for their entire lives and don't see the fruits of their labor. I just keep trying to remember that. I try to keep God in it and my family in it and just keep staying strong mentally about it. But sometimes it is hard. I do get down on myself, but I truly believe even better times are ahead for me."

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