116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — At the same school as star basketball player Keegan Murray — spelled with two E’s and one A — wide receiver Keagan Johnson saw a few people misspell his name last year on social media.
“At the beginning of the year, there was a lot of people spelling it, ‘K-E-E,’” Johnson said. “I didn't see as much toward the end of the year.”
That change may be because of the spotlight Johnson drew as a playmaking wide receiver on Iowa’s offense.
The Bellevue, Neb., native started nine games, the most for a true freshman wideout at Iowa since 2006, while still transitioning to the realities of college football.
“I’m going from a yellow school bus to the game in traffic (in high school),” Johnson said. “Now we have police escorts.”
Johnson had three 40-plus-yard catches in 2021 — the same number as the rest of Iowa’s wide receivers combined. He had a team-best 19.6 yards per reception, and his 352 receiving yards were second-best on the Hawkeyes behind tight end Sam LaPorta.
Johnson’s true freshman season was a “blessing,” he said.
“Sometimes when I go back and watch film, it still doesn’t feel real,” Johnson said.
Wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland called Johnson a “true star” and “explosive athlete.”
“We saw that numerous times out there in Kinnick and other stadiums as well,” Copeland said.
Johnson is avoiding any complacency, though, about the 2021 season that featured often-underwhelming overall results from the offense.
“I don’t think anyone is complacent about what was shown last year,” Johnson said. “We showed some good plays, some good spurts, but the consistency I feel like just wasn’t there.”
Improved offensive consistency would have a rather obvious impact. While Iowa was seventh among FBS teams in defensive efficiency and sixth in special teams efficiency, per ESPN’s Football Power Index, the offense ranked 96th in efficiency.
Based on his own experiences, Johnson also can envision the difference that consistency would have when wooing future prospects to Iowa City.
“When I was looking at Iowa, they had Ihmir (Smith-Marsette) and Brandon (Smith) already,” Johnson said. “Just seeing that really gave me hope that I can do that maybe. And maybe reach new heights.”
The next step for Johnson as he tries to do reach those new heights is “honing in that explosive,” Copeland said.
“There's a time to be explosive,” Copeland said. “There's a time to be fast. There's also a time to be a little bit more detailed — a little bit sharper at the top of your route, maybe a little more keying into where I’m putting my eyes on a certain, particular route.”
As Johnson works through his second year of spring practices after enrolling early in spring 2021, he has learned from what veteran athletes have done.
He added yoga to his training regimen after suffering an abdominal injury that kept him out of the Citrus Bowl.
“Kind of unfortunate that it happened at the time that it happened because I was really excited leading up to that game to go out there and play in Florida,” Johnson said.
Even after he recovered from the injury, he stuck with the yoga as part of his “normal” routine.
“It’s super relaxing, too,” Johnson said. “A great getaway. Go ahead and turn on some music. It’s great.”
Teammate and fellow true freshman wide receiver Arland Bruce IV already has seen the difference.
“It's crazy to say because he's fast as hell, but he's definitely gotten faster,” Bruce said. “And I feel like he's getting out of his routes a lot quicker.”
“Maybe,” Johnson said with a smile after hearing about Bruce’s comment. “If A.B. says it, I’ll go with it.”
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