Rishaw's return impacting OL

After being suspended for roughly half of last season for breaking team rules, junior OL Rishaw Johnson has stayed on a straight path and is now impacting the Rebel offensive line with words and deeds. Read about it inside.

Ole Miss Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson boils down the impact junior Right Guard Rishaw Johnson can have, and is having this spring, on his OL quickly.

"Rishaw can be special, really special," said Markuson. "He's such an explosive guy. He's a tremendous athlete with all the tools. Size, speed, strength - he's got it. He's done a lot of good things this spring and is physical. He's also getting better with his assignments. We're sure glad he's back because we need him.

"He could be really, really good if he'll keep working on his fundamentals and keeps playing with intensity. I think he can do some great things before he's done here if he will keep grinding."

Rishaw Johnson

Markuson doesn't look at the past or the suspension from a year ago. That's water under the bridge.

"Everybody makes mistakes. Rishaw made one, he paid for it and now he's back doing everything the right way," Mike added.

Johnson does not shy away from the inevitable question about his suspension.

"I've been living right, doing the right things and hanging with the right people," he said. "I've changed my attitude and my approach to football and life."

Last season, while he was forced to sit out, he blamed nobody but himself and made no excuses.

"I was real disappointed in myself. I had to watch the games from the stands and the sidelines," he noted. "I was determined I was going to do the right things to get back on the field with my team. I missed football a lot."

This spring, he came back with a renewed determination and a different attitude.

Before his suspension last year, there were days at practice when Johnson appeared a bit temperamental and would clash with Markuson pushing him to the limits.

Now he seems to welcome the hard coaching of his mentor.

"I've been working on being more physical and my fundamentals, trying to be the best I can be," he explained. "Coach Markuson is helping me get there."

While the defensive line has been pushing around the offensive line, as a whole, this spring, Rishaw - now a veteran - has been holding his own, it seems.

Rishaw Johnson

"They are real good and we have some young guys in the interior of our line. This spring is only going to make us better going against those guys every day," he said.

"I'm trying to become a leader of the young guys and motivate them any way I can. Coach is looking for me to be a leader and I want to be in that role."

Despite the youth factor in the OL, Johnson has high hopes for the young offensive linemen.

"A.J. (Hawkins) and Evan (Swindall) are both going to be real good. They just have to keep working and developing," he said. "We've got several guys like that - Mike Brown, Josh Tatum, Chris Gill. They are just young. I think we are going to be pretty good by the time the season starts. We've just got work to do."

Right now, Rishaw is playing right guard, but he says he can play all five positions if called upon.

"I'm most comfortable at right guard, but I can play any of the line positions. In my career, I have worked all five at one time or another," he said. "At guard, you have to worry about big boulders like Jerrell Powe and Lawon Scott. At tackle, you have to worry about speed rushers.

"I don't care where coach puts me, I just want to play."

To illustrate his return to the team, Johnson tried to make a statement early in spring training.

In one-on-one drills, he wanted to be matched up with Powe. Johnson won the battle, sending some minor shock waves through the spring camp.

"I had to. Jerrell is my workout partner and we've been talking a little trash to each other," he said smiling. "I wanted to set a tone for the spring. I wanted to let everyone know I'm back and I mean business."

There are hundreds of story lines at spring training this year.

Rishaw's ascent from the doghouse to the penthouse is definitely one of the most intriguing.

The elevator is going up.

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