UK Football

Kentucky receiver Garrett Johnson proving he's 'the whole package'

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Garrett Johnson (9) ran after catching a pass from Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) as the University of Kentucky played Eastern Kentucky University in Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, October 03, 2015. This is second quarter college football action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Garrett Johnson (9) ran after catching a pass from Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) as the University of Kentucky played Eastern Kentucky University in Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, October 03, 2015. This is second quarter college football action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Garrett Johnson is not the fastest guy on Kentucky's team.

At 5-foot-11, 182 pounds, the sophomore definitely isn't the biggest guy on Kentucky's team.

If you saw Johnson walking across campus, you'd have no reason to suspect that he's the Cats' leading wide receiver who goes by the high-octane moniker: "Juice."

"He's just a quiet demeanored, good kid," wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said of Johnson. "He doesn't have a bunch of showoff to him at all."

His sophomore season has been plenty of show, though. In the past three games, Johnson has 18 catches for 304 yards, gaining nearly 17 yards per catch.

In Southeastern Conference play, the star from Winter Garden, Fla., is averaging 82 yards a game.

"When you look at him, you're like 'How's this guy doing that?'" tight ends coach Vince Marrow said of Johnson, the sixth-best receiver in the league midway through the season.

Johnson reminds Marrow of Steve Tasker, a diminutive wideout Marrow played with professionally for the Buffalo Bills. Tasker, a seven-time Pro Bowler, was known mainly for his special teams prowess during his longtime NFL career.

But as a receiver, Tasker was special, too, Marrow said. Just like Johnson, whose 160 yards receiving on nine catches against Auburn were the most for a UK wideout since 2010.

"He just has a knack for how to run routes, how to get open ... very twitchy," Marrow said.

UK defensive back Blake McClain can remember the first time he saw Johnson on the football field when he was much, much smaller at their first seven-on-seven practice back in Florida.

"I was like, 'Who is this little dude?'" McClain recalled. "Ever since then I knew he was going to be what he is right now."

So when Johnson suggested this summer that the two of them go run routes at night at Commonwealth Stadium, McClain agreed. To be the best you want to go up against the best, he said.

And Johnson is among the best.

"He has exceptional route running," his roommate said. "His hands. He catches everything. You see on third down, they go to him because he's a sure catcher. And his football IQ is definitely off the charts."

And Johnson is among the Cats' hardest workers.

Not a day went by this offseason that Mainord didn't see Johnson sitting in a dark room watching film, studying defenses, studying other wide receivers for tips.

"He lives football, and in the off-season he's always trying to grab something new," Mainord said.

When he wasn't in a random film room, he was in the weight room asking coaches to help him become more flexible, more fast, more "twitchy," as his coaches discussed.

The goal for Johnson was to be better than he was a season before. There were multiple flashes of what the wide receiver could be last season, like in the Florida game when he caught six passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

In the nine games after that, Johnson had just 13 catches for 61 yards with no touchdowns.

He wanted to become more dependable.

So he went to work.

"I knew I didn't want those little spurts," Johnson said. "I wanted to be consistent whether it's blocking, catching the ball or just with my whole game, I wanted to be consistent with everything and that was a huge focus."

All of that extra stuff, the extra time studying film and working out, the total devotion to his craft is what makes Johnson special, his head coach said.

"He's got the whole package," Coach Mark Stoops said. "Part of it is instincts and understanding how to alter routes and sit in holes and beat one-on-one coverage and all of those things.

"He can run, he can catch, and he has good instincts."

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