Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TaxSlayer Bowl Notebook; Johnson Travels Winding Path to Grab Quarterback Job for 'Cats

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TaxSlayer Bowl Notebook; Johnson Travels Winding Path to Grab Quarterback Job for 'Cats

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits

Stephen Johnson's path to Lexington, Ky., started in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where he threw for 34 touchdown passes in his junior and senior years, then went through Grambling, La., back to California, then finally to the University of Kentucky - after first turning down a chance to travel across the Pacific Ocean to play at Hawaii.

"It's been a journey," said the Wildcats' junior quarterback, who replaced the injured Drew Barker in the third game of the season against New Mexico State and has gone on to help the Wildcats win five of their last eight games and get to the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday against Georgia Tech.

Johnson was recruited to play at Grambling by its legendary quarterback, Doug Williams, and won the starting job as a redshirt freshman in 2014. But a promising season ended with a high-ankle sprain and he decided to go back to his native state and play at the College of the Desert, a junior college in Palm Desert, Calif.

Johnson became the Mountain Conference offensive player of the year after throwing for 3,210 yards and 34 touchdowns (and running for 429 yards and eight scores) and he signed with the Wildcats as the No. 5-rated dual-threat quarterback in junior college.

He credited the buzz at Kentucky, of a program on the way up, as the main reason for signing.

"The atmosphere at Kentucky [was] my main thing out of JUCO," he said. "I wanted to go somewhere who wanted me as bad as I needed them. That really showed with Kentucky. I really made a connection with them."

He said his first meeting with quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw was the clincher.

"It was really inspiring to see a guy who had really high aspirations for me and the offense," Johnson said. "It was really exciting."

When Barker went down with his back injury, Johnson stepped in to throw for 310 yards and three TDs in a 62-42 victory over the Aggies. Johnson has 1,862 yards and 12 TD passes, and has run for 278 yards and two scores.

His signature game was against Louisville. Johnson tossed a 75-yard TD pass to Garrett Johnson on the first offensive play of the game for Kentucky, and he went on to pile up 338 yards and three TDs, and run eight times for 83 yards. …

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