By Vic Dorr, Jr. Richmond Times-Dispatch
Gerard Johnson intends to play bold, carefree football in his final season at Norfolk State University. The knee injury that sidelined him for the final two games of the 2015 season, he said, has been banished to the past. Johnson’s focus is riveted to the future.
“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder,” said Johnson, a senior running back from Meadowbrook High School. “I’m not a very big guy (5 foot 9) and people tend to look at me and say, ‘Well, he won’t be able to get it done at this level.’
“I’ve always used (such skepticism) as a big source of motivation.”
He now has an additional source. Johnson rushed 118 times for 418 yards last year before tearing the ACL in his right knee in Norfolk State’s game against Savannah State on Nov. 7. The first surgery of his career followed. The extent to which he will bounce back has yet to be determined.
“I feel like I have something to prove,” he said. “Not to other people — I’m not worried about what other people are thinking. They can think and say whatever they want. I just want to prove to myself that I can still do this — that I can still run hard; that I can still play at a high level.”
He cannot do so, he said, with caution as his companion.
“You can’t play football if you’re worried about getting hurt,” he said. “Playing like that — playing scared — is probably the best way to get hurt. I’m not worried about contact. My knee feels good. I can plant and cut with no trouble. I’m going to go out there and do what I’ve always done. I’m going to run as hard as I can. After that — well, whatever happens, happens.”
Johnson rushed for 865 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons at Old Dominion. He transferred to Norfolk State following his sophomore season. The move produced mixed results. On the field, adjustment was the order of the day. The Spartans finished 4-7 (4-4 MEAC) under new coach Latrell Scott. Off the field, Johnson quickly became secure at his new address.
“I’m a pretty outgoing guy,” he said. “Whatever the situation, it never takes long for me to fit in.”
Nor has it taken him long to assess the makeup of this year’s Norfolk State team. Johnson said familiarity and cohesion, at times elusive last year, will be NSU’s allies in 2016.
“As we’re around each other more, we’ve become more comfortable and more confident,” he said. “We’re all looking out for one another. We’re all working hard with the same goal in mind.”