AMES — First the neck.
Then the knee.
Iowa State running back Shontrelle Johnson’s football career has nearly been cut short twice in a two-year span, but hard luck never prompted him to ask, “Why me?”
“I just look at it as God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers,” said Johnson, who is once again full-go after six months of rehab for a torn ACL suffered last December. “I’m just thankful and blessed to have the opportunity to be able to come back and play again.”
Johnson — the only Cyclone back to achieve a 100-yard rushing game last season — missed most of the 2011 season after sustaining a serious neck injury.
His football days could have been numbered, but he persevered and returned for 2012.
Then, the freak ACL tear happened during Liberty Bowl prep last season, forcing the Floridian once again into rehab mode.
“It was a long process,” said Johnson, one of several backs vying for carries this season. “The initial three months, it was definitely a grind. It was more of a mental thing of me having to face the fact I couldn’t be out there with those guys, especially sitting out spring ball. But it was just a mental thing. I just had to stay diligent with my rehab, coming in every day and making sure I did extra things — range of motion and all that stuff. Once I got past that part, it was kind of smooth sailing.”
But how would his surgically repaired knee respond once the hard knocks and quick cuts began coming again Monday — and throughout fall camp?
Johnson admitted to a bit of pre-drill apprehension, but once on the field, it dissipated.
“It was in 7-on-7 (Monday) and I made a catch out of the backfield on a swing route,” said Johnson, who is 31 yards shy of 1,000 in his career. “I made a quick cut, a sharp, strong cut like I normally do and it was on the same leg and it was actually, like, in the same set up as when I tore my ACL. And I made that cut. And I was talking to (linebacker) Jeremiah (George) about it and I was like, ‘I made the same exact cut.’ I was kind of, ‘Yeah. I’m back.’”
Just in time to try to gain playing time amid a talented group that includes James White, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy.
Could he start once Big 12 play rolls around?
A strong possibility, he said — but with qualification.
“We’ve got a great group of backs and it’s definitely going to be a fight,” Johnson said. “But that’s always been me since day one. I’m looking for a competition and I’m ready to go out there and get back to my old self. See what happens.”
So far, so good.
“He looks fast,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said. “Cutting — nothing tentative about how he’s practiced for two days.”
Johnson said he feels a tad slower, but watching film confirms Rhoads’ analysis.“Feel good,” he said. “Just getting back into the swing of things.”