DJ in charge

It's been a miraculous comeback for Washington cornerback Derrick Johnson. Diagnosed in 2001 with a foot injury so unique doctors claimed there might only be two other known cases ever chronicled, the 6-0, 195-pound cornerback from Riverside, California bounced back to earn back-to-back second-team all-Pac-10 honors. With eleven interceptions in the past 25 games, Derrick has made a name for himself as a 'lock-down' corner.

2004 is the year the All-America candidate proves he's as much a leader as he is a player.

Ironically enough, it was a recruit that never made it to Montlake that spoke most eloquently about Derrick and what he means to the Huskies. "He's really passionate about the game and he's someone I could learn from," Arizona State signee Uriah Marshall told about host Johnson when Uriah visited Seattle this past December. "And when I go somewhere, I would like to have someone that I could look up to and someone that could teach me about the college game. I don't want to go in there and be a leader of the secondary as a freshman. I could rise up to the challenge and do that, but it would be better to be able to have someone there to feed off of."

There's no question Marshall would have been looking up to Johnson had he decided to attend Washington. In a perfect football universe, juniors and seniors would have a year or two to show those just coming into the program just what it takes to be successful - on and off the field. The secondary is one of the few places where that perfect universe and real life collide just the way the coaches drew it up.

"The mentality coming into the spring is to get better," Johnson told coming into spring football. "We're competing a lot more and we'll continue to compete and it'll be fun to see who rises to the occasion.

"I think it's gotten a little better, but it's also kind of the same as it's been in the past because everyone understands that they have to get better. There's always room for improvement because we made a lot of mistakes and errors in the games. I think everyone's attitude about this is that we have to get better and there's nothing else to worry about."

Well, there might be one more thing to be concerned about if you're a cornerback wearing the purple and gold. "I'm on my fourth corners coach," Johnson said. "Coach (Chuck) Heater, Coach (Bobby) Hauck, Coach (Phil) Snow and now Coach (Jimmy) Lake."

Head Coach Keith Gilbertson remarked Tuesday about a continuity with his coaches and his hope that this staff could stay together for a few years. Johnson will only get one shot with Lake, but he sees a coach that has staying power.

"He's really young," Derrick said. "He's only five years older than me, but he has a lot of knowledge of the game and obviously he's a good coach because the coaches hired him. I'm excited to work with him. Between him and Coach Snow they have their ways of how they want to do things and it looks like it could help us. I'm always interested if it can help."

While Johnson's clear focus will be on mentoring players like Matt Fountaine and Clarence 'Dre' Simpson, Derrick's presence will be felt all along the secondary. "I think Chris Hemphill and C.J. Wallace are going to have to step up and have a good spring," he said of the younger, athletic safeties. "We're expecting them to have a good spring. And we need Cody Ellis too. He's a hard worker and he's very smart. He's also very fast. I think he'll do well back there."

How seriously is Derrick taking this spring? Last season a lot of football players participated in track as well as spring football. This year that wasn't going to be the case. The team throttled it back a notch and went back to basics.

"We didn't really ask the coaches to run this year because of our record," Derrick said. "We wanted to focus on the team atmosphere and having everyone accountable and being there. So right now we're just working together."

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