Bump in the road leads Johnson to Western Kentucky

By Gus Bode

Talented fullback is where he belongs after transferring from Indiana this past summer

Factoid:SIU will play host to Western Kentucky at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at McAndrew Stadium in the Salukis’ season finale

In a fullback, Western Kentucky’s Jerami Johnson is anything and everything the NFL scouts drool profusely over.


The senior transfer from Indiana is a non-green version of the Incredible Hulk, standing 5-foot-10 with 275 pounds of raw girth and muscle stacked on his arms, shoulders and legs.

But he still has the athleticism to run the 40-meter dash in 4.65 seconds.

He has the vision of a hawk, is willing to throw his bowling ball of a body into defenders at any time and has the innate ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and gain yards after the catch, which is becoming a must in the NFL’s love affair with the West Coast offense.

Johnson is the total package.

One can only imagine what a 190-pound defensive back is pondering when the Hilltoppers’ stellar back is charging toward him.

“I am not trying to hurt anybody, but contact is what the game’s about,” Johnson said. “When you hit somebody you can feel it through your whole body. If you start running hard early on, you can dictate the game.”

Johnson started and starred the past three seasons at Indiana. Coming into this season, his tough attitude and tenacity, along with his obvious plus of size and speed, had experts projecting him to be picked in the third round of the NFL draft.


Many college football preview magazines were even acknowledging him as the top fullback in college football.

Even with these lofty expectations and high draft grades, he didn’t feel as though Indiana was home after new head coach Gerry DiNardo and his staff came in for what would have been his final season with the Hoosier football squad.

Johnson contests there was much to his departure from Indiana, and he states that he technically didn’t lose his scholarship like numerous reports stated.

“It was a long story,” Johnson said. “I wanted to stay [at Indiana] because it is where I chose to go at the beginning. It started to be that it wasn’t the place I was supposed to be and a lot of my family and friends thought that, too.”

When he left Bloomington, Ind., to look for a new college, he was elated with the warm welcome Western Kentucky had for him.

“I was looking at [transferring] for a while,” said Johnson, a native of Ballard, Ky. “I got a hold of the coaches here and realized this was where I wanted to be. The coaches here are great. There was lot of love and they made me feel comfortable.”

Hilltoppers head coach Jack Harbaugh knew that Johnson would be a huge boost to his squad with his overwhelming talent.

“We were excited,” Harbaugh said. “In our offense, we felt he would be a definite upgrade. He can catch the ball as well as anybody I have ever seen. He just has a great touch with his hands.

“Another thing he can do is block. He has a great athleticism and can roll his hips and explode into defenders. And he is a good runner.”

But while many would expect Johnson to have a poor attitude being that he transferred before his final season at Indiana, Harbaugh proves that this common stereotype is not the status quo in Johnson’s case.

“[Johnson] is an excellent youngster,” Harbaugh said. “He is very caring and very sensitive. Even though he came here late and missed the first week of two-a-days, he is extremely well liked by his teammates. He has been very low-maintenance for me as a coach.”

His chances to be selected are as high as where he was previously projected were slim, with some draft prognosticators now saying he has slipped to the fifth or sixth round. Yet, this soft-spoken man-child believes his future is in his hands.

“I still don’t know where I will go, but it will depend on how I do at the [NFL draft] combine,” Johnson said. “I just pray I will make it.”

But, if for some reason an NFL team doesn’t choose Johnson, he doesn’t intend to call it quits until his body prohibits him to suit up.

“Football gets me motivated everyday because it is not guaranteed,” Johnson said. “I might just have one more play to play football.

“Everybody wishes they could be doing what I am doing. I feel blessed, not lucky.”

Reporter Zack Creglow can be reached at [email protected].