It wasn’t long after the Buckeyes lost redshirt freshman running back Evan Pryor to a knee injury during fall camp that running backs coach Tony Alford had a conversation with fifth-year senior receiver Xavier Johnson.
Johnson spent a season at running back for the Buckeyes a few years back, so the two simply talked about the possibility of needing him in the backfield once again should other things take a turn for the worse in the RB room.
Weeks before this conversation ever happened, however, Alford was asked what Johnson’s answer would be if he was told that he needed to leave the receivers and return to the running backs.
How would Johnson take the news considering he is finally in line to play very good minutes at receiver for the Buckeyes this year.
“‘How fast can I get there? Tell me what you need me to know,'” Alford said of the predicted response. “And he would come in extra and say, ‘Okay, what have you put in new that I don’t know, and let’s study that. Coach, I know you go home at 9:30, 10 o’clock, I’ll be there at 10:30. Let’s meet afterwards. Let’s meet early.’ That’s not even a question if he would do that. That’s a foregone conclusion. That’s what he would do. He would do the same thing if they said ‘Hey, come over here and play corner.’ He is the consummate team player.
“I’m more than proud of the way he’s handled himself and I’ve watched him grow into the man that he is. I know I can speak for this entire staff — and I know a lot of times people will say ‘I don’t want to speak for coach Day, or I don’t want to speak for…’ I’ll speak for the entire staff on that one, that I think every single coach in that building would lay it on the line for that kid and what he’s done for this program. I know his parents are extremely proud of him too.”
Johnson originally walked on at Ohio State. He was a receiver who immediately moved to cornerback, then to running back, and then finally to receiver. He was put on scholarship last season as a reward for his work.
Receivers coach Brian Hartline said this week that he has seven receivers he is going to rotate, and Johnson was among them.
And yet when Johnson was asked this week why he’d be so willing to drop everything and move positions for the fourth time in his career, he gave an answer that every coach wants to hear.
“This team, everybody is so close knit, there’s a love in this team that I’ll say is special,” Johnson said. “I’ve been a part of five teams now and I would say that this is definitely one of the teams that has the most love, most chemistry. So just for that reason and that reason alone, shoot, I would ask the Lord for strength to kind of help me through the situation and then go in there and get my notebook out, my iPad out, and figure out exactly what they need me to do.”
Xavier Johnson has done everything he has been asked and has turned into a valuable member of the Ohio State football team. But even with the prospects of playing time just days away, his team-first mentality is unwavering.
If you’re looking for a Buckeye to root for this season, keep an eye on No. 10 and know that you’re going to get whatever he has to give, wherever they’ll let him give it.