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There is an oddity at the Ohio State football factory you just don’t see very often. There is real chatter about a walk-on running back named Xavier Johnson who just might play a key role in the Buckeyes season when it starts October 24 against Nebraska. It’s not just a position coach talking about him. Even head coach Ryan Day is starting to take notice of Johnson (6’2, 215; academic All-Big Ten, 2019) while managing a roster of 120 players.
“Xavier Johnson’s done a really good job,” Day said during a recent press conference.
He actually said that about a walk-on. You might not know much about college football, but you have to know walk-on running backs rarely, if ever, get mentioned during a blue blood head coach’s press conference.
This is Rudy-esque type stuff, if Rudy had 3-star talent and was recruited by Iowa State, Cincinnati and MAC schools out of Cincinnati Summit Country Day High School. Johnson decided to pass up scholarship offers and walk on with the Buckeyes.
Now it’s 2020, COVID is here, and Day will need his entire team during a season where guys could miss time with positive test issues. Throw in a schedule that doesn’t include a bye week over nine weeks, and there’s a real possibility Johnson will find himself a role to play.
“He’s had an outstanding month-and-a-half, if you will, since we really started rolling again,” running backs coach Tony Alford told Eleven Warriors. “He’s a guy that’s littered all over the special teams. He’s extremely athletic … another guy who understands the routes and how to run routes and how he fits in patterns and things like that, and continues to impress our entire staff with the way he comes to work every single day, and he’s done a nice job.
“Now where that’ll go as far as reps and things like that, time will tell. But he’s done a nice job. I’m very pleased with him. I love the kid. He’s an extremely mature kid and takes care of his business. So I’m excited about the prospects for X.”
Master Teague will be the main horse at running back for Day and Justin Fields. Oklahoma grad transfer Trey Sermon will get plenty of carries, and Steele Chambers will be in the mix as well. The walk-on Johnson is expected to get situational work, possibly catching passes out of the backfield.
“So we as 18-23 year old men are able to make potentially life altering decisions such as joining the army, buying a gun, or the joint decision of whether or not we want to keep a child, but we are told whether or not we can play the game we love?” the walk-on tweeted back on August 10.
Hate the Buckeyes all you want, but Johnson just might be a kid on that roster you can root for.