It’s easy to hear the nickname “Juice” and assume it was given to a boisterous, play-making prima donna.
But when Kentucky coaches and teammates talk about Garrett “Juice” Johnson, they use words and phrases like “reliable,” “mature” and “a real good guy.”
This season when they talk about the wide receiver, they also use the word “leader.”
And while Johnson says that’s a role he’s comfortable with, his position coach said it’s one the 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior from Winter Garden, Fla., has had to grow into.
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“Really proud of the kid,” wideout coach Lamar Thomas said of Johnson. “All the sudden he went from being a guy who didn’t have to talk a lot to a guy we needed to talk more and continue to make plays. He stood up to the challenge, and we couldn’t ask for more from a better kid.”
As Kentucky breaks in an entire class of new receivers like Lynn Bowden, Isaiah Epps, Josh Ali and others, Johnson’s coaches can’t imagine a better player for them to study and emulate.
“He’s really taken a lot of steps to be a leader in the wide receiver room,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “I’ve just been impressed with him and I really appreciate him.”
When there are seniors and new players like that, it can go one of two ways, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. The young players can see bad practice and game-study habits of older players and follow suit.
Or they can see a player like Johnson, who tries to get better every week.
It’s a role the senior takes seriously.
“I’ll look and know they’re right there just following along, doing what I do,” said Johnson, who has 500 receiving yards and two touchdowns this season. “It makes me stay on guard more — makes me stay on my toes — just conscious of the moves I’m making and understanding someone’s watching.”
Quietly, this player with the loud nickname “Juice” has gone about his business at Kentucky. With two games still to go in his college career, Johnson already is fourth on the school’s all-time receiving yards list with 2,050.
The names ahead of him are all Air Raid-era players: Craig Yeast, Keenan Burton and Derek Abney.
Quietly, Johnson has passed names like Dicky Lyons Jr., La’Rod King and Randall Cobb.
In all of UK history, Johnson is just the fourth player to reach 2,000 career receiving yards. He is one of two Wildcats to have at least one 100-yard receiving game in each of his four seasons.
“Garrett sometimes flies under the radar,” Stoops said. “He’s made tremendous growth off the field, on the field. I really appreciate Garrett and the way he’s gone about his business. He’s reliable. A lot of his catches throughout this year are critical third downs.”
Johnson, whose 46 catches this season are 27 more than the Cats’ second-leading receiver, is reliable, but he also has been known to live up to the nickname, squeezing out an explosive game like the one at Louisville last season when he had 164 yards and two touchdowns on five catches.
“He means a lot to me, just the connection we have, just knowing where he’ll be,” said quarterback Stephen Johnson, who threw those passes to Johnson against the Cardinals. “He knows where I want to throw the ball. Different situational stuff, just on and off the field, he’s just a real good guy.”
The “reliable” wideout doesn’t treat these big games — like the one against Louisville at Kroger Field for his Senior Day on Saturday — any differently than the others, he said.
But Johnson wouldn’t mind if he lived up to his nickname once more: “I’d love to go out with a bang against these guys.”
Louisville at Kentucky
Noon (SEC Network)