BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
It was a determined Ian Johnson that faced the media at the annual WAC Football Preview.
Johnson, arguably the best running back in the Western Athletic Conference the last couple of seasons, is steamed over talk about his lack of durability, a possible drop in interest by NFL teams and the fact that he didn't play in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
According to coach Chris Petersen, Johnson even has some competition at his position in D.J. Harper and Jeremy Avery, a pair of talented sophomores, who filled in for Johnson when he was injured last year.
It was Petersen that also pointed out that Johnson would play this year with a chip on his shoulder, and his star running back didn't deny it.
"I definitely have a chip on my shoulder," said Johnson, who suffered through injuries that forced him to miss two full games and the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. "I''ve gotten myself ready to take the hits for an entire season.
"The fact that I have guys biting at my heels, I've got to prove I'm better and that they just can't come out and play without us missing a beat. I definitely believe there is going to be more dividing up of carries than I'd love to do, but I'm preparing myself to be the guy."
Johnson has already proved he is durable as evidenced by the fact he played the second half of a win over San Jose State back in November of 2006 with a partially collapsed lung. Johnson carried 29 times for 149 yards.
Petersen has already said that Harper and Avery would get some action to keep Johnson fresh.
"We're hoping he can get back to the running style he had in 2006 and let it loose," Petersen said. "He's very motivated."
Part of that motivation stems from the bowl game against East Carolina, and another is the fact that the Broncos had their five-year stranglehold on the conference stopped by Hawaii. Johnson doesn't think the coaching staff gave him a fair opportunity.
"It was very hard the way it ended last year," Johnson said. "I got an ankle, but I was ready for the game, but didn't get my number called. If I can't play, I don't suit up. I was asked if I was if I could go and I told them I could. They said they would call me when they needed me."
This stands to be a record-setting season for the star running back. He needs 1,059 yards to become the school's all-time rushing leader. Also, he needs 1,846 to become the WAC's all-time leader. He only gained 1,076 yards last year which is an off-season for him. He wants to go out and prove he is the best in the WAC.
"I'm going to go out there and prove that I'm better than the others (in the WAC) at receiving and running the ball," Johnson said.
Hawaii linebacker Adam Leonard is especially impressed with Johnson.
"Ian Johnson is a great running back, but you need a great line to open holes, and that's what Boise strength has been is its offensive line," Leonard said. "Ian has the ability to slip tackles. You think you have him stopped for no gain, and all of a sudden he's slipped off you and gained five yards."
Some of that is vision. Johnson said he knows where every defender should be, and he is able to slide off tackles, because he's not taking direct hits.
Johnson said he didn't need to rely on vision as much in high school.
"In high school you were better off just running through tacklers," he said.
Defenders are bigger and faster at the college level, and Johnson has to use his other tools. He said part of his success stems from understanding the defensive scheme, so he knows how the defense will react and where the openings should usually be, and his eyes are usually focused on those openings.
- Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281