LAFAYETTE — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette was struggling to punch it in down in the red zone against South Alabama a couple weeks ago, and sophomore receiver Jared Johnson had the perfect remedy.
“We went to the red zone I think five times, and we came out with one (touchdown),” Johnson said. “We kept getting field goals. So I asked (quarterback Terrance Broadway) to throw a jump ball. He said, ‘I will after this.’”
That “after this” play? Running back Elijah McGuire took it to the end zone from 8 yards out for the Cajuns’ only touchdown of the game. Johnson would have to wait his turn.
But maybe the simple act of telling Broadway he wanted the ball, of showing him and the coaches he had the confidence to make a play, has opened the doors for Johnson to truly blossom in the Cajuns offense.
“I just felt like I could make the play, honestly,” Johnson said. “I knew I could make the play.”
The next time the Cajuns found themselves near the goal line, on their first drive of the game against New Mexico State, Broadway audibled out of the run play that was called in the huddle. He locked eyes with Johnson and the two communicated with a hand signal. “I gave him a head nod, and we went from there,” Johnson said.
Broadway threw it high, the 6-foot-5 Johnson hauled it in for a 5-yard touchdown catch, and the Cajuns had a lead they never relinquished. Having shown himself capable, the Cajuns looked his way the next time they got down near the goal line, this time on a called play. Johnson skied over the defensive back for that one, too.
Confidence breeds confidence, which has always been at the core of it in Johnson’s first few years with the team.
“Jared is a very talented guy, but a lot of these young guys come from high school where they are the best player and come into a college setting where they go from the best to the worst — and there’s nothing wrong with that,” tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Reid Stringer said. “Sometimes it just takes a little time just for them to make a play in a game … to get the confidence where (offensive coordinator) Jay Johnson wants to throw the ball to him more, get Terrance confidence to throw it up to him.”
The confidence appears to be growing. The next step for Johnson is consistency. He’s been an effective red-zone target before, now it’s time to string a couple solid games together in a row.
If he could do it this Satuarday against UL-Monroe, whose campus lies a little more than an hour east of his hometown of Minden? Well, that would be nice too.
“It means a lot,” Johnson said of the opportunity to play the Warhawks. “They didn’t want to offer me (a scholarship) until I got offered here.”
Johnson is just now starting to come into his own. Stringer said Johnson has put roughly 30 pounds on his frame since he’s been on campus, and could add another 10-to-15 before he’d get switched to tight end.
But there’s potential for Johnson to be much more than a red-zone threat. The Cajuns knew that when they signed him.
“We knew it was going to take time,” Stringer said. “Not all kids coming here are ready made for college football. We understand that, we have a great development program as you can see with all of our young players starting to make plays for us.”
“When their time comes, like it did for Jared the other day, he makes two huge plays for us. … He has a chance to be a very good player.”
Senior receiver James Butler put it a little more succinctly. After Johnson’s two-touchdown week against New Mexico State, he saw what he needed to see.
“The future is bright,” Butler said.