Johnson excited to be back on field for Dukes

JMU's Cardon Johnson for a touchdown against North Carolina last season. Johnson is coming back from a torn achilles, which caused him to miss the last five games of last year. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — It was a simple play, but it was a significant moment.

Several weeks ago, James Madison University tailback Cardon Johnson caught a screen pass and sprinted approximately 60 yards to the end zone in a JMU practice and celebrated with his teammates. It was Cardon’s first play of the preseason after missing the end of last year with a torn achilles tendon.

“I can’t even describe the feeling,” Johnson said earlier this week of the play. “It was joyful being able to come back. And just being able to practice with the team, just going through regular running back drills with the team. It was just a joyful moment. That right there just gave me more confidence. And it showed me that I was ready to come back. And I’ll be ready to play.”

Johnson, a redshirt senior, and his JMU teammates will play at East Carolina University’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium tonight at 6 p.m. Johnson said he’s excited to get back out on the field and play after missing the last five games of last year, including the Dukes’ Football Championship Subdivision National Championship run.

Unfortunately for Johnson it’s not the first time he’s missed significant time with injury.

An injury in his senior year at Warwick High School, in Newport News, limited Johnson to just six games.

Then after redshirting his freshman year at JMU, Johnson suffered a ruptured achilles tendon during JMU’s Spring Game. He missed all of the next season.

“That was a freak accident that happened throughout the game,” Johnson said. “It happened, I didn’t really know what to think of it. I had never had a serious injury down low, and I really wanted to just get back after that.”

Johnson bounced back in a big way in his redshirt sophomore season. He played in all 12 games and made 11 starts.

He scored 10 touchdowns and ran for 1,037 yards for the Dukes that season. Johnson’s 6.44 yards per carry was ranked sixth nationally that season in FCS. Johnson also had 17 receptions for 195 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson said having gone through the injury in his freshman season helped him with his latest injury.

“It’s not as severe as the last one, but definitely knowing that I had that injury before gave me confidence that I could bounce back,” Johnson said. “And also it helped just prepare myself and prepare how I want to when the time came for the season.”

Johnson was having another strong year last season. He played in the first nine games and ran for 704 yards and scored eight touchdowns for the Dukes.

JMU coach Mike Houston said Johnson tried to play through the injury for a few games, before he finally chose to end his season and have surgery.

Johnson said it was hard having to watch his teammates from the sidelines for the remainder of the year.

“It was tough. I definitely wanted to play,” Johnson said. “I definitely wanted to go out there and contribute, but I had to take a step back. I just had to root for them guys and cheer them on. I just tried to be a coach on the sidelines. I just wanted to let the guys know that whatever we can do in this running back room let’s put it out there on the field.”

Johnson said he worked hard in the offseason to rehab his achilles and he had a lot of support from family, teammates, coaches and friends.

Johnson wasn’t able to practice with the team on the first week of the preseason fall camp, and Houston said he’s sure there were some doubts in Johnson’s mind about how strong he would be when he returned. Houston said that’s why the touchdown reception he had in his first practice back put a smile on everyone’s face.

“It was a really exciting day because you saw he’s still Cardon,” Houston said. “So I think that whenever he gets his first touch (tonight), whatever play that is, it will be an exciting time for him, his family and for all of us.”

Johnson is one of four running backs that the Dukes will use according to Houston. Johnson, junior Marcus Marshall, junior Trai Sharp and senior Taylor Woods are all expected to see plenty of carries for the Dukes this year.

Johnson said it’s nice to have so much talent at the tailback position.

“I really want us to come out each and every day and get better with each other,” Johnson said. “I think it will be hard for defenses to key on just one running back. That’s going to take more of the game plan. We’re a tight unit and that’s what you want to have in a room. I feel like to have four running backs — that will be tough for the opponents to stop each and every Saturday.”

Johnson said he’s not sure what emotions will be going through him when he finally steps back on the field and carries the ball.

He said his goal for this season is simply to stay healthy.

“I just want to play,” Johnson said. “I’m excited. Coming off a serious injury you just want to come back stronger and healthy and just being able to play at a high level.”