It was the cruelest bit of irony for the Longhorn brothers.
There was fifth-year tailback Kirk Johnson, an injury magnet with the worst of luck, on the field against West Virginia flashing the zip and power he once displayed as a prep prospect. On the sideline was wideout and younger sibling Collin Johnson, unable to play because of a nagging hamstring injury that derailed his senior season.
Kirks presence in the backfield with Collin split out wide was a moment the two had envisioned for years. It was a dream they clung to as Kirk underwent all manner of surgeries and treatments and injections to return to the field.
Fate had other plans in store, and a seasons worth of injury woes provided the younger Johnson with a fresh perspective.
I put my arm around him one time and was like, Kirk, I know exactly how you feel now, Collin said Sunday. Except his was probably 10 times worse because he had to deal with that for years and years. Definitely my respect for Kirk grew, which I didnt think was possible, but I had a taste of what he was dealing with.
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Collin deemed this final season in burnt orange beyond frustrating.
He first suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter of the season opener against Louisiana Tech, and it grew more severe than he anticipated. That began a miserable cycle in which he missed six of 10 games despite undergoing treatment that included several platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections.
I barely practiced before LSU (in Week 2), got a lot of treatment on it and tried to play in that game, Collin said. After that game, my hamstring was pretty bad so I had to sit out, get a shot, try to play, get hurt again, got another shot. Its been a chaotic situation.
Collins story at Texas couldve ended in January at the Superdome.
He considered declaring for 2019 NFL draft recording a career-high 68 receptions for 985 yards and seven touchdowns. Plus, turning pro after hoisting the Sugar Bowl trophy wouldve been a legendary exit.
But there were still gains to be made, a Big 12 championship to be delivered, a chance to play alongside Kirk one final time. Collin couldnt deliver on many of the goals he outlined, though there are no regrets on returning for one more year.
At the end of the day, Im human, and I have those thoughts, like what if this, what if that, Collin admitted. But I wouldnt change a thing.
I know things didnt go anywhere near where I wanted to on a personal level. Even as a team this year, its been a little frustrating for me. But at the end of the day, you have to make a decision and roll with it, and I learned a lot from it.
When healthy, Collin was still every bit the imposing 6-foot-6 matchup nightmare hes always been.
During a four-game stretch midway through the season, the only extended period he was near full health, Collin averaged seven receptions and 97.3 yards. His presence alongside senior slot maven Devin Duvernay can elevate the Longhorns offense from dangerous to downright deadly, and junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger is thrilled he gets one more outing with the pair.
Having Collin obviously is a huge help for us because of the player that he is as well as the connection that we have together, Ehlinger said Sunday. Through my college career, hes been the one guy who I consistently connected with.
Im very comfortable with him out on the field. He poses an issue because now teams arent going to be able to double Devin and double Collin. They have to pick one or the other.
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Its possible a long, fruitful NFL career awaits Collin. He looms as an intriguing vertical option and massive mismatch in the end zone against defenders who might be half a foot shorter.
Rather than playing it safe and sitting out as some draft-worthy seniors do, Collin is eager to run with his brothers in burnt orange in last time. He could make a case as an early round pick with an explosive outing against 11th-ranked Utah and its stout pass defense.
And while it isnt the finale Collin hoped for, he can go out on a high note by leading Texas to three straight bowl wins for the first time since it won five in a row last decade (2004-08).
Its always hard to put a percentage on a hamstring because its one of those lingering injuries, but I feel great, Collin said. People can argue its a bowl game, things like that, and a lot of people choose to sit out for whatever reason. But for me, I just get another opportunity to go out there and play the game I love, so it just comes down to that.