October 24, 2012 9:49:36 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Anybody associated with the Mississippi State University football program will tell you confidence is the story behind sophomore wide receiver Robert Johnson.
MSU's coaches have confidence in Johnson. The Bulldogs have faith in Johnson's ability. This season, Johnson started believing in himself.
The 6-foot-1 standout from Hattiesburg had a season-high two catches for 36 yards Saturday in a 45-3 victory against Middle Tennessee State University. One -- a 23-yard pass from Tyler Russell in the third quarter -- was his first touchdown catch as a Bulldog.
Johnson, who redshirted in 2010 out of Oak Grove High School, said he has a better understanding of what it takes to compete in the Southeastern Conference in his third year in the program. He said he was trying to prove himself on the field in his first two seasons.
"The (touchdown) was so huge because it was like I got a monkey off my back," Johnson said. "It was so easy to score in high school. It's just not that way at this level with this competition. Last year, I was still trying to figure out how to practice hard."
In 2011, Johnson would be pointed out and yelled at by numerous coaches for dropped passes, route running, and a lack of understanding of MSU's spread-option offense.
"It's all confidence with RoJo, and my job with him is not to beat him down but to lift him up," MSU wide receivers coach Tim Brewster said. "What I've done with him is make him understand the fruits of his labor, and he works extremely hard, are coming very soon."
It wasn't until Johnson caught a career-high three passes for 22 yards at No. 6 Arkansas last year that coaches began to see signs of potential he could deliver in games. Then, in what was supposed to be a breakout year, he lost his position coach less than two weeks before the start of the season. MSU wide receivers coach Angelo Mirando resigned Aug. 19 due to what school officials called personal reasons. It later was revealed Mirando was under investigation for rules violations involving the recruitment of at least one student-athlete.
Four days later, MSU announced Mirando's replacement as wide receivers coach would be Brewster, a former University of Minnesota coach. Brewster recruited Johnson when he was at Minnesota, which helped Johnson recognize someone saw his potential.
"Coach Brewster has a real good relationship and nobody told me he would be coaching here till I saw him in practice that first day," Johnson said. "I kept thinking there's no way he'll remember me, and when he did, it was a special feeling for me."
Suddenly, Brewster was publicly using words like "outstanding" and "impact guy" to describe Johnson's play in practice. It's all he needed to hear.
"RoJo has got all the attributes and physical qualities you're looking for in a big-time wide receiver, and the future is going to be special for him," Brewster said. "I think RoJo is finally feeling good about himself, and he should because he has that 'wow' factor."
Even though Johnson has only six catches for 76 yards this season, Brewster has mentioned him as a critical part of MSU's passing attack that saw 10 receivers have a reception last week against MTSU. Johnson hopes his success translates into something MSU fans can look forward to in the final two months of the season and beyond when he'll be an upperclassman and ready to assume an even bigger role.
"What I'm trying to do now is bring that consistency to practice every day and do the little things of my job well every single day," Johnson said. "That's what I and everybody will want to see."