Stephen Johnson Talks Faith, Family, and Football
By: Larry Vaught
Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson has enjoyed being able to tell recruits about the UK football program when they visit campus. He’s hosted several recruits and said he tries to provide each one with a player’s point of view about what to expect from the program.
“A lot of times coaches will tell you what they want you to hear. I am able to tell future players what to expect and about different situations from my perspective,” Johnson said.
He’s been just as open with those who have attended Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings at UK with him.
“Growing up I was raised in a Christian family. I have kept those beliefs to his day,” he said. “I try to keep my faith first. Any opportunity I get to give my testimony and be a light, I do it.”
Saturday he’ll be leading Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia Tech.
His parents, brother and sister will all travel from California to be at the bowl game.
“They get the SEC Network at home. If they don’t get to come to games, they watch there,” he said. “They are excited. My sister has been telling me how happy she will be to see me play for the second time this year.”
His sister, Sydney, played on Southern Cal’s national championship soccer team. He admits she’s the best athlete in the family.
“She’s a beast,” he said. “We have such a competitive family it is not funny. Anything we do, even something like monopoly, is the most competitive thing you will ever see. She’s probably the most competitive.”
He said her hand-eye coordination “was not all there” and she seldom played football with him.
“But with her feet, she is tremendous,” Stephen Johnson said.
Could she outdo UK placekicker Austin MacGinnis, who had two game-winning field goals this year?
“With a football I am not sure, but with a soccer ball absolutely,” he said with no hesitation.
Freshman running back Benny Snell had 1,079 yards rushing in UK’s final 10 games after not getting a carry the first two games, both UK losses. He finished the season averaging 5.9 yards per carry and rushed for 13 touchdowns. That earned him freshman All-American honors.
“I think it helps us a great deal. I think it’s impressive to have a true freshman do that, and hopefully it will excite some other recruits to come here and have an opportunity to play early. It just goes to show you, because that’s a position we were very deep but the best players are going to play,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.
Snell was not a four-star or five-star prospect. What he could do is run with power and speed.
“I think Benny is another great example of where our coaches just did our evaluation of him and we were very excited about him all along. He’s been steady. He was steady with us through the process, and we were steady with him. It’s been very good,” Stoops.
Snell says players are “excited” about Saturday’s bowl game and that this season was more than he ever imagined it would be for him.
“I knew what I could do and how hard I worked behind closed doors and how ready I was. I knew my opportunity would come and I showed what I could do, but I never expected all of this,” Snell said. “Guys are a lot more excited. We have more energy in practice now. Coaches are on us a lot more now. It is like a Louisville or Alabama game week. But it is fun.”
Snell said a chance to finish with an 8-5 season if UK wins the bowl game provides extra motivation.
“You know it will be different environment at the bowl, but it’s football and part of what it is. It is fun already,” Snell said.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said he eventually knew Snell would get into the playing rotation because he kept getting better daily. But he admits he never thought Snell would become a 1,000-yard rusher or a freshman All-American during the preseason.
“It just, the way it happened, it worked out well for where we were and what we were doing. He has been terrific,” Gran said.