Texas’ junior starting wide receiver had surgery to repair a deviated septum – occurs when a thin wall between your nostrils is displaced to one side - just prior to the start of fall camp and missed the first few days of practice.
He’s noticed the biggest difference in something we do thousands of times per day since his return.
"I haven’t breathed this well in a long time. It really helped a lot."
“Come to find out I thought it was allergies,” he said. “I got a CT scan and there were a lot of other things going on. That’s out the way and it’s over with. But I am breathing really well. I haven’t breathed this well in a long time. It really helped a lot.”
Before the surgery Johnson noticed he was having problems sleeping. Longhorns center Jake Raulerson had a similar issue heading into his freshman season and also found its cure to be the repair of his deviated septum.
“It was kind of scary but I am thankful the surgery went well,” said Johnson, who was seen at the first practice with a huge bandage on his nose.
“The moment he took the stitches off this past Monday [Aug. 4] and I took that big breath of fresh air I was like ‘Wow I haven’t felt this in a long time.’ It definitely showed on the field.”
Breathing easy, Johnson has now shifted his focus toward further establishing himself as one of Texas’ biggest offensive threats.
It’s a roll he was going to assume regardless this season after catching 22 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns a season ago. But that’s especially become the case now with Jaxon Shipley out 3-to-6 weeks with a strained hamstring and the dismissals of Kendall Sanders, a projected starter, and emerging threat Montrel Meander.
Right now Johnson is leading a group or WRs that consists of himself, an injured Shipley, a suspended Daje Johnson, some unproven younger players like Jacorey Warrick and Jake Oliver, a senior still trying to find his place in John Harris, and five true freshmen.
“This is what we have and we are going to continue to work with it,” Johnson said. “This is what you want, you want to step up and be more of a leader and want the opportunity to show that. We want to prove that this core is strong, that we will make plays and continue to do well.”
There is talent there but most of it has yet to be tapped into. Johnson is one of the few receivers that has established himself in-game.
That happened in his first real opportunity last season against Kansas State when he caught five passes for 70 yards, including a 21-yard gain. He did not play a snap the two weeks prior due to a knee injury.
“I came off that little knee injury and did what I could to step up in the time when Mike [Davis] was hurt,” he said. “I think my confidence was there.”
If there was ever any concern about his confidence that flew out the window the moment he hauled in a 59-yard touchdown pass from Case McCoy in Texas’ triumphant victory over Oklahoma. Texas was only up 10-3 before Johnson beat his defender down the sideline with 8:46 left in the second quarter.
“That was a major step,” he said, smiling. “Going into the game, and even in the season, I wasn’t expecting a touchdown or anything like that. It just let me know that I could do this and be a dynamic player. It helped with my confidence.
"It’s funny because if I would have dropped that pass against Oklahoma it would be a lot different right now."
“There weren’t any doubts [about my ability]. I was just waiting for that chance and then once it came just taking advantage of it. It’s funny because if I would have dropped that pass against Oklahoma it would be a lot different right now.”
Johnson followed that up by hauling in three passes for 120 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown against TCU.
“I just go out there and make plays whenever I can,” he said.
“You want to go against the best. Even in practice I am constantly calling guys like Duke and Quandre out,” he said. “You want the best competition to make you better.”
That’s one piece of advice he’s given the younger receivers in this group vying for playing time. They are going to have the opportunity to play right away.
“With everything that’s happened, it has [been really wide open for playing time],” Johnson said. “That’s why guys like us continue to step up and those freshmen are competing for playing time. They understand that we need them in a time like this.”
“They’ve all looked good,” he said. “Each one has come in and showed their skillsets. They’ve all done well. This is the first week and I’ve seen a lot. They look good.”
Johnson repeatedly used words like “smooth” and “confident” to describe the younger receivers, which bodes well for position coach Les Koenning, who Johnson has really gravitated toward.
“He is a guy who has been in the NFL. He’s coached great athletes,” Johnson said. “So anything he says we listen to, we capture and make sure we execute.
“From the moment he got here in the spring, the whole group fell in love with him. We will continue to fight for him every day.”