While hurdles stand in the way of college football’s commencement, the Sun Belt Conference has yet to bow out of the 2020 season. Often overlooked and wrongfully dismissed, the competitive conference could finally find itself in the spotlight due to unprecedented circumstances. The increased exposure is especially beneficial for a talent-laden team like the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, who currently sport one of the more intriguing offenses in the Sun Belt. The super-charged unit is spearheaded by redshirt senior RB Josh Johnson, an explosive power runner who should see enough volume to lead the conference in rushing in 2020.
UL Monroe RB Josh Johnson
Coahoma Community College
Although he attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in 2016 following a prolific high school career, Josh Johnson opted to spend a year away from the gridiron afterward. However, his next move would ultimately jumpstart his playing career at the collegiate level.
Not long before announcing his arrival to the college football world, Josh Johnson navigated the uncharted depths of junior college football at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Mississippi. While the shift to the junior college ranks presents its own unique set of challenges for prospects, Johnson managed to make the most of his lone season in obscurity.
As a freshman, Johnson ranked fifth in the NJCAA in rushing yards (1,101) — including six 100-yard rushing performances — and accumulated eight touchdowns. Johnson’s most memorable outing came against Mississippi Delta; the 5-foot-9, 215-pound bruiser rushed for a school-record 321 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries.
Johnson was a Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges (MACJC) all-state first-team selection and was named the Tigers’ Offensive MVP.
Resurfacing at Louisiana Monroe
Johnson parlayed his stellar debut into a Division I opportunity at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. However, the redshirt sophomore would have to wait his turn before becoming the Warhawks’ feature runner. Appearing in nine games in 2018, Johnson rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Following the departure of fellow running back Derrick Gore, the backfield would solely belong to Johnson in 2019. Johnson, along with the athleticism of quarterback Caleb Evans and the receiving prowess of tight end Josh Pederson, added another layer to the Warhawks’ offense. In fact, Johnson and Evans combined for 2,092 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
While opponents struggled to defend Louisiana-Monroe’s three-headed offensive juggernaut, as evidenced by their 31.6 points per game average, the offense primarily went through Johnson. Playing in 12 games, Johnson registered 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns on 201 carries and added 122 yards in the air as a receiver.
Johnson compiled seven 100-yard efforts, but his most robust performance came in a late-season offensive outpour against Georgia State. The Alabama native carried the ball 20 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
Finishing third in the Sun Belt Conference in rushing yards in his first season as a lead runner, Johnson earned second-team All-Sun Belt honors.
Josh Johnson’s 2020 outlook
For now, the Sun Belt Conference is expected to follow suit with the SEC, ACC, and Big-12 in their plans to play football in 2020 — which is good news for Josh Johnson.
Johnson, who is among 76 running backs in college football to appear on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list, enters his redshirt senior campaign with heightened expectations.
Johnson’s rare blend of power and finesse has enabled him to take advantage of every opportunity at the collegiate level. His natural contact balance and ability to finish runs makes him one of the more underrated running backs in college football.
Teaming up with Pederson for one more season, the duo comprises one of the most diverse pairs of offensive weapons in their respective conference. However, with much to be determined in the coming weeks, it appears the stage is set for Johnson to put his stamp on the Warhawks offense once again.