Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson's story is best you've never heard
The Texas A&M product has outperformed the nation's most elite quarterbacks
He's transforming a program not only with talent, but with maturity and values
Johnson's coming out party should take place this Saturday against Arkansas
He is the Sidd Finch of college football, a player so talented and productive it's almost impossible to believe he's real.
But Texas A&M junior quarterback Jerrod Johnson is very real. And despite carrying a team with less talent and more freshmen than all the hyped-up Heisman-watch names, Johnson is making a stronger early-season case for the stiff-arm statue than anyone.
His story -- how he's become one of the most mature and grounded athletes in big-time sports -- is equally inspiring.
You wouldn't know it, however, unless you took the time to drive to College Station to catch a glimpse of this kid who has run like Terrelle Pryor, led like Colt McCoy, thrown like Sam Bradford. Teammates and coaches respect his tough-mindedness and character as much as so many fans admire Tim Tebow's.
But television cameras have not followed Johnson's every move. In fact, they have not followed any of them. Not one of Johnson's monstrous games this season has been televised. The director in the truck has not demanded that cameras capture every facial expression and emotion of Johnson's mother, girlfriend or neighbors. Brent Musberger has not cooed over Johnson's greatness or made it seem that when he traipses effortlessly over football turf he could just as well be walking on water. Thom Brennaman has not gushed over spending five or 20 minutes with Johnson, saying your life would be better for it.
As one Austin columnist put it after watching Johnson run for three touchdowns and pass for three more in a 56-19 pasting of Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday, "Stick [Johnson] in Tim Tebow's uniform, and after the numbers he put up ... the Heisman race would be over."
Johnson's coming out party figures to come this Saturday, when the 3-0 Aggies take on Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium. And when America finally does say hello to Jerrod Johnson, a.k.a. Sidd, chances are it will want to pay attention to what college football truly is all about.
Johnson doesn't drink, and never has tried anything stronger than Advil when it comes to drugs. His name is often misspelled or mispronounced. It's Jerrod, as in ja-ROD. He is compared, foolishly, to Vince Young or JaMarcus Russell, mostly because he is a big quarterback and black. He is more polished as a passer, a smooth runner and often the smartest player on the field.
He made an early impression, literally, on the Aggies program over the summer as he entered his first full season as the starting quarterback. He woke up at 5 a.m. everyday for boot camp-type workouts. He telephoned incoming freshman and encouraged them to meet for 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 practices with veterans. He held meetings with every offensive player, meticulously using a laser pointer to go over individual assignments on every play in the Aggies playbook.
Johnson has put a once-great football program that finished 4-8 a year ago on his shoulders. He leads the nation's No. 1 offense in coach Mike Sherman's second year in Aggieland, and through leadership and on-field production, he is carrying the Aggies back to respectability.
Comparisons? He averages twice as many passing yards (320.3 to 160.7) as Tebow.
He has three times more rushing yards (196 to 61), more rushing touchdowns (4 to 1) and a higher passer rating (167.0 to 150.9) than McCoy.
He's thrown more touchdown passes (9), with a higher completion percentage (67.5), than Ryan Mallett, Jacory Harris and Terrelle Pryor.
He averages more total offense per game (385.6) than Taylor Potts, Jimmy Clausen and Todd Reesing. His passer rating is higher than Case Keenum's, Zac Robinson's and Max Hall's. He accounts for more points per game (26.0) than any other player in America. He ranks in the top 11 nationally in every passing category, as well as in total offense (third behind quarterbacks Greg Alexander of Hawaii and Case Keenum of Houston).
He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 245 pounds. He is a powerful runner with a deceptive and long stride. He can throw the ball 70 yards, with ease. At the Peyton Manning camp over the summer, he beat McCoy, Bradford, Greg McElroy and a couple dozen other Division I quarterbacks in a passing skills competition. At the camp, the Manning family patriarch, Archie, told Johnson, "You have it all."
And in just three games in 2009, Johnson has accounted for 1,157 yards, rushed for those four touchdowns, passed for nine and thrown zero interceptions. Zero. He has started just 13 games in his collegiate career, but is on pace to obliterate long-standing Aggies records.
Already, he has posted four of the school's top nine single-game total offense performances. He has four of the top six all-time single-game passing marks (a career-high 419 against Kansas State last year). He already has established the single-season record for touchdowns (24) and is on pace to become the all-time completions percentage leader.
His is Sidd-like in every way.
Growing up in the Houston suburb of -- appropriately -- Humble, Texas, he was considered a pro prospect in baseball and basketball. As a sophomore in high school, Johnson clocked 90-mph on the radar gun with his fastball. As a junior in high school, Johnson earned a basketball scholarship to A&M. Current Marquette coach Buzz Williams, a former assistant at A&M, said of Johnson shortly after his commitment in 2005, "he could start for us right now."
But there's more to Jerrod than numbers and skills.
He is the son of a high school teacher and high school administrator. Pam and Larry Johnson's faith and compassion ran so deep they took in nearly two dozen foster children while Jerrod and his brother, Marquis, were growing up. When Jerrod was 3, the state took custody of the child of one of Pam's friend. Pam's heart broke at the thought of the child, a boy named Kendall, not having a home. Larry and Pam went through foster parent training and raised the child until the state found a permanent home.
From then on, the Johnsons gave foster children everything they could -- holiday parties, gifts, vacations, a church home, a family's love. They accepted kids of every age, so long as they were boys.
Some of the children were infants. Some were young teens. Some were children of crack and heroine addicts. Some suffered from severe developmental and health issues. Some simply were abandoned. Some were black, some were white, some were Hispanic. It never mattered.
"We didn't care if they were special kids, overweight, sick, and we didn't see color," Pam said. "We didn't talk about any of that in our family. We're all related. It doesn't matter what color."
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