Tameka Crout marveled at the determination showed by her son, Jordan Johnson, when he was at Sweet Home High School.
Even though he was the most talented player on the team, he refused to rest on his athletic ability.
“He’d always get up at 5:30 in the morning and do his push-ups and his sit-ups, and then he’d go running for a couple of miles before getting ready for school,” Crout said. “I know a lot of these guys work really hard. But to have that type of dedication at that age, he was focused and had his eyes on the prize.”
Johnson enters his senior season at the University at Buffalo as one of the top three or four tailbacks in the Mid-American Conference.
It turns out Johnson had a good role model in striving for college football success. He watched his working mom raise four children as a single parent and earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees while taking on-line classes over an eight-year span.
“Honestly, I tip my hat off to my mom,” Johnson said. “She got her GED. She went back to college and got her first degree from Bryant & Stratton. Then took on-line classes. I don’t really know how she did it. That’s my motivation. Seeing my mom do so much, I’ve always felt like I should be taking care of my work.”
The bond with mom is the driving force for Johnson, who is the top Western New Yorker on the UB team.
Johnson and the Bulls hope to pull an upset Saturday night when they visit the University of Nevada in a non-conference game in Reno (9 p.m., Radio 1520, Mountain West Network).
Johnson is a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder who has waited his turn in UB’s running back stable. He watched behind future NFLer Branden Oliver early in his career. He spelled another fine lead back, Anthone Taylor, the past two seasons.
Last year Johnson rushed for 811 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 4.7 yards a carry as UB’s No. 2 back. Now he’s No. 1. He does his best work between the tackles, but he has enough speed to get around the edge at times.
“He’s truly a great combination of athletic skills,” said UB running backs coach Matt Simon. “He can make you miss. He has great change of direction, great hips. But he has power that when he asserts it, he’s as powerful a back as there is in this league.”
Johnson has run with power from the moment he hit the field as a little leaguer with the Sweet Home Junior Panthers.
“When I first saw him play football, he was maybe 6 years old, and I knew he was good,” Crout said. “He was always stocky, and he would just run through people.”
After just a season or so of little league in Amherst, Johnson moved with his family to North Carolina. Crout enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Bragg. How big of an impression had Johnson made?
“When we moved, some of the parents from the Junior Panthers team asked for his autograph,” Crout said. “They said, 'This is going to be worth something some day.'”
Crout served a three-year tour of duty and then decided to move the family back to Western New York.
“Down South they are all football,” Crout said. “Being the new kid at the school, Jordan did not start. They were not looking at him at all. That was one of the reasons why I decided to come back because I wanted him to have a chance. I really saw something in him.”
Johnson went on to earn first-team All-WNY honors and was a two-time Class A state player of the year as a dual-threat quarterback for Sweet Home.
He says playing behind Oliver, now with the San Diego Chargers, was an education.
“He was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen play,” Johnson said. “He came every day with that attitude to get better in practice, and that rubbed off on everyone. A lot of people don’t understand you’ve got to get better in practice. I roomed with Joe Licata last year. Seeing how he prepared for the games also made me realize the preparation that goes into it the night before a game. You’ve got to be mentally focused and mentally prepared.”
Johnson takes pride in his physical style.
“The best way to get the most yards is to go north and south,” he said. “Don’t go side to side. As long as I’m hitting the holes fast, I think it works to my advantage. Being big, I can fall down and get a yard or two extra.”
He’s grateful for getting to play his college career so close to home, and he takes the most pride in his mom’s accomplishments.
Crout started on-line classes with the University of Phoenix in 2009. She earned a bachelor’s degree in management, then a master’s in business administration. She finished her doctorate in management and organizational leadership in June. She works as claims examiner for the Veteran’s Administration regional office. Johnson will complete his degree in psychology in December.
“My mom is my best friend,” Johnson said. “I don’t really know my father. Before every game, I look up to the stands to see her face, and I’m looking up to thank her. Family is important, and our family is real close.”