Punter Johnson has been a hit for Cardinals

One of the positions on the University of Louisville football team that has been a surprise to some has been punting. The Cardinals are using redshirt freshman walk-on Ryan Johnson, who won the job over true freshman Josh Appleby. Cardinal Authority has a feature on the former DeSales High School standout.

Ryan Johnson was a quarterback in high school.

But he also did a little bit of everything else on the field for DeSales High School, playing defense, kicking, punting and being a leader.

"He's a really good athlete," University of Louisville special teas coach Kenny Carter said of the redshirt freshman Johnson.

Johnson had a chance to land a scholarship after his career at DeSales. He had interest from a bunch of small schools, but decided to take the walk-on route.

And it's paid off.

Johnson, an All-State performer in high school, won the starting punting job for Louisville in his second year with the program and is averaging 43 yards a kick. He took a late hit on a punt last week to help seal a win at Florida International.

"Ryan won the job and he's executed so well," Carter said. "He's a hard worker and really brings a lot of things to the table for us."

While Johnson knew what he was capable of on the field, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Johnson said he's proud of himself for doing it under pressure.

"I had small schools looking at me, but I always felt like I could play Division I," he said. "I thought I could succeed best in punting and I knew doing that I could play at the Division I level."

Johnson said punting is not as easy as some might think.

Since he arrived at U of L, Johnson has been focused on nothing but improving his skills to be able to punt. He spent time during the summer with Mike McCabe of One on One kicking in Alabama and "just worked on getting better."

"He did a great job this summer," Carter said. "Mike got him focused and squared away on what he needed to improve and he's worked hard."

Johnson said during the camp you spent upwards of three weeks with McCabe and "work with him every day, even some days when you might not kick."

"He's working on different things to make you perfect," Johnson said. "In high school, I was never focused on punting. But since I have been here it's been my main focus and I have just tried to do anything I can to get better."

Carter called the competition between Johnson and Appleby as a "very good one, very competitive." Appleby punted twice against Kentucky but Johnson has won the job and punted nine of the 11 times for U of L this season.

Johnson is averaging 43 yards a kick and has six of his nine punts that have landed inside the 20-yard-line. He has two 50-yard plus punts.

"It's a lot of hard work and a lot of time," Johnson said. "It's been fun for me to be able to get the chance. People don't think a lot about kickers and punters but do a lot in the offseason to get you where need to be during season."

Johnson has had one huge moment that helped U of L win in Miami last weekend and also had one bad moment against North Carolina.

The bad came late in the UNC game when Carter said Johnson lined up "too close to the line" and the punt was blocked, leading to a touchdown.

"The shame of it all is the blocked punt created a little more drama for him," Carter said. "It was his fault but had we not had that, there's no telling what his average would be right now. His only other punt that game was 57 yards."

But the good was even better against FIU. As U of L tried to run the clock out, the Panthers forced a punt. But Johnson hung in there with a huge rush, got the punt off and was hit by the defender, drawing a roughing the punter penalty.

The penalty gave U of L a first down and the Cardinals ran out the clock. U of L safety Hakeem Smith said Johnson earned some credibility with his teammates from that play late in the game.

"Some punters would take that and be out for the game," Smith said. "He got a hit on him and was able to bounce back after that. He gets a lot of credit. Some punters you seem them acting, but for him that's a good start for him."

Carter said he's excited because Johnson is such a good athlete – and was a former quarterback – so there are things the Cardinals can do down the road in the punting game should they need it.

"He'll allow us to take advantage of some situations that people give us," Carter said. "He gives us a lot of options., and that's what you want."

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