Derrick Johnson speaks with Derek Johnson

In the somber media room following the <A HREF=>UCLA</A> game, I wandered over to where Husky defensive back <A HREF=[PlayerNode:1165972]>Derrick Johnson</A> was being interviewed. The media room has theatre-style chairs, and I quietly took a seat right next to the senior captain. He was dressed in black sweats and sported a diamond earring, while his lean and wiry frame was semi-slumped into the chair.

As he fielded questions, his fatigued and subdued gaze was perpetually cast downward. A throng of microphones and TV cameras were bunched in close to him to capture his every word. Johnson was asked to comment on Maurice Drew ("yes, he's a good back") and whether the defense was embarrassed to surrender 322 rushing yards to him ("yes, of course we're embarrassed.") After a few minutes, the press members simultaneously all thanked him and then flocked away en masse; as massive offensive tackle Khalif Barnes had just lumbered into the room, taken a seat a few feet away, and was now somberly fielding questions with cameras and microphones hovering around his face.

I stayed behind with Derrick to find out more of his thoughts regarding the 0-2 start to his senior season. His freshman season had begun with a Rose Bowl Championship, but that now seemed so long ago. How was this, his final season with the Huskies, going to end? Johnson continued to focus his eyes downward, as he quietly articulated answers to my initial questions about how everything could unravel so badly on defense against the Bruins.

"Well, for starters, that whole passing series at the end of the third quarter, that produced the field goal that they got, that was all on me," said Johnson. "I need to step up. I'm a senior captain and consider myself a decent defensive back. I need to make plays. And obviously I didn't on that 3rd and 5 when they caught the curl (route), and then on that post (route) when the receiver got knocked out.

"Overall, we just didn't stay in our gaps and tackle like we can. If an offensive line is blocking good, then you run well. If they're not, then you don't. But (Drew) is a talented back and he has good vision. Their line is very talented. If they're getting over 200 yards rushing a game, they're doing something right."

I asked Johnson how well the team had rebounded psychologically in the days following the painful Fresno State loss. Johnson continued to look downward. "This group of guys, we're not going to quit. We've got a lot of athletes and we can play good football. As you can see, when we're clicking then we're playing good, but when we're not clicking, we're NOT playing well. This group of guys, we're never going quit. We don't like to lose. So we're going to fight and scratch until the last second of every game. We showed that today, as we kept fighting. We're going to get these things corrected before Notre Dame… And one day we'll be good. Hopefully by next game, we'll put it together."

I asked Johnson about whether this year's team has greater unity when compared to last year's, following Rick Neuheisel's firing.

"Oh!" exclaimed Johnson, emphatically shaking his head and shoulders yes. He then looked directly at me in silence for about five seconds, as if he was going to say more about last season's troubles, before he seemingly changed his mind. He stuck to commenting on how this year's team will attempt to face down this set of tribulations.

"You know, if you look at all the great teams that have been in here through the years, they all stick together," Johnson said. "The main thing right now is to be a family and stick together. Our coaches preach that in games there are going to be tough times. Every game is not going to be a flawless game, there are going to be ups and downs like a roller coaster. We've just got to stick together and keep fighting. Because if we can do that, if you can believe in yourself, if you can believe in your teammates, you're going to win a lot of football games."

But can this year's Washington team achieve a .500 season? Johnson was still looking at me directly, as he commented quietly but emphatically, upon the prospects for the rest of the 2004 campaign.

"I feel good about this group and we believe in each other. There will be no point this season, in any game, where we will feel like we're out of it."

Derek Johnson is a freelance writer and a columnist for and Sports Washington magazine. He can be reached at Top Stories