Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Josiah Johnson shows versatility for UMass football

The tight end has six receptions on the season
(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

The passing game for the Massachusetts football team has been volatile so far this season. Changes at quarterback and injuries to the offensive line have resulted in an inconsistent passing attack that has only averaged 168.1 yards per game.

However, trending upward in the UMass (1-6) passing attack is redshirt freshman Josiah Johnson. With six receptions on the year—a season high three catches versus Louisiana Tech—Johnson has seen an increased role in the receiving game. It’s expected that Johnson will continue receiving looks as the season rolls on.

“Hopefully he’s becoming what we know he can be and that’s a human Swiss Army knife,” coach Walt Bell said. “He’s a guy that his skills detached are great. He’s a really great kid, he’s a great special teams player for us. I think the more repetitions and more volume he gets within the system, he’ll be a guy that eventually you can start to move all over the place and be an explosive player.”

Spending most of his time at tight end, Johnson was recruited to UMass with the ability to play both the tight end position and quarterback. His ability to adapt to different roles within the offense has played a key role for the Minutemen.

“I was originally put into a flex-Y position mainly to just run routes,” Johnson said. “But there’s been different issues with depth so they kind of just integrated me with the actual position of tight end. Now my hand is in the dirt, doing different things there. I played something similar to that last year so it’s nothing too new, but I’m a legitimate tight end now.”

For all of spring, Johnson worked with the quarterbacks until he was converted to tight end. He still stays up to date on the play calling for the quarterback position and thinks he could fill in if needed.

Adjustment has been a consistent theme of Johnson’s time at UMass so far. After becoming acclimated to a college offense last year, he was thrown into a new system this season. The fluctuation at quarterback has presented an additional challenge for he and the rest of the Minutemen receiving corps.

“I feel like we’re just getting more confident,” Johnson said. “In the beginning with a new offense there were bits and pieces where we didn’t have a real comfortable feel to where the routes were going and different things. I feel like it’s more cohesive. Now we’re getting a better feel for it and make the right read as receivers and tight ends to find more open space.”

Standing at 6-foot-5, but weighing only 195 pounds, Johnson is undersized for a tight end. He hasn’t let that stop him, however.

“I’m a little light for a tight end but I’m kind of hard-headed so I like to try to do what I can,” Johnson said. “Wherever they need me, I’ll try to be there and do what I can…Being a little bit smaller, I have to know exactly what I need to do, I can’t just use size to make up for anything.”

Johnson’s size made a difference in his second reception of the season—a 34-yard snag down the sideline on third-and-three against Akron—setting up a UMass field goal.

“You go from being quarterback to being a position you’ve never played before, there’s a curve,” quarterback Randall West said. “You don’t just get into a new position and do well every day. But he’s put in the work, he’s put in the time and he’s really a matchup problem. When you’re running him out there with a linebacker out to cover him, that’s going to be tough on the linebacker to get his job done. He’s a phenomenal guy, hard worker, what you want in a Division I football player. He’s a good player now and he’ll be a good player in the future down the road.”

The versatility shown by Johnson is something Bell and the UMass offense cannot take for granted and sets a good example for other UMass players to follow. With a lack of depth and injuries arising as the season continues, Johnson has continued to execute whatever role he’s been asked to fill. His development within the UMass system could provide Bell the Swiss Army knife weapon he sees within the young tight end for the next several seasons.

As for Saturday’s game versus UConn (1-6), Johnson is prepared to do whatever the coaching staff deems necessary.

“I’m just trying to prove to the coaches day-by-day that they can trust me and that I can be an asset on the field,” Johnson said. “It feels like they’ve gotten more comfortable with me as the games have gone on.”

Kickoff on Saturday is set for 3:30 p.m. from McGuirk Stadium in Amherst.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @DMcGeeUMass.

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    Darren NixOct 26, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Nice article! I really hope we get to see him at quarterback one day! He’s got the skills, heart, drive, and leadership skills for that position and to lead the team to more wins! Glad he’s got three more years!