Some may call it predestination. Others know it as divine intervention. However you choose to say it, Stephen Johnson believes he has a purpose here at the University of Kentucky.
“I knew (God) brought me to Kentucky for a reason,” Johnson said. “Even though I started as a backup, I really just tried to stay ready for what came next.”
What came next has been a real treat for fans of the Kentucky Wildcats. Since taking over as the full-time quarterback in week 3 against New Mexico State, Johnson is 7-3 and has led the Wildcats to their best record in 7 years and their first bowl appearance since 2010.
He has done all of this with a poise that has sometimes seemed on the verge of being uninterested. He plays with a calm confidence that has make a huge impact on his teammates, which was obvious in their win over the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday.
Two seasons ago, Stephen Johnson found himself on the bench at Grambling State. He transferred to the College of the Desert and started for the JUCO Roadrunners for a season.
UK beating UofL may cost Lamar & Cards dearly
Millions of dollars, a BCS bowl, and the Heisman could be what Louisville misses out on thanks to UK.
Then this past Spring, Darin Hinshaw, the co-offensive coordinator of the University of Kentucky came calling.
Seeing it as an opportunity to get back into a major college program, Johnson decided to take a chance. He would sign on as a reserve for a building program in the SEC and wait for his chance. And man how that gamble has paid off for Stephen Johnson and for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Johnson has thrown for 1,862 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season with a completion percentage of nearly 55%. He has rushed for almost 300 yards, including a 75 yard rush in the opening drive against Tennessee.
With Boom Williams and Benny Snell leading the offensive production in most games, Johnson has often been viewed as more of a game manager that has simply not made mistakes to hurt the team.
Saturday, though, against the no. 11 Louisville Cardinals and the Heisman front-runner, that all changed.
Stephen Johnson out-dueled Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson by throwing for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also led the Wildcats in rushing with 83 yards on 8 attempts, all while being hobbled by an injury that actually had him not start last week’s win over Austin Peay.
In addition to the impressive statistics, Johnson simply looked like a star quarterback against Louisville. Not typically known as a runner, he ran when necessary and used his legs to make several key 3rd down conversions.
Not thought of as an accurate passer, every ball that he threw (even his lone interception) seemed to land right where he wanted to throw it.
All of this was enough to earn Johnson the 2016 Howard Schnellenberger MVP Award following the win. The annual award given to the MVP of this rivalry matchup has featured names like Devante Parker, Teddy Bridgewater, Lamar Jackson, and now Stephen Johnson.
Saturday, on the biggest stage and against one of the best teams Kentucky faced all season, Stephen Johnson rose to the occasion and led the soaring Wildcats to victory. He maintained his calm demeanor and quiet leadership as he led his team to a game winning field goal in the closing seconds of the battle for the Governor’s Cup.
It is easy to see how things might be complicated next season when former 4 star recruit and presumed starter Drew Barker returns from his back injury. But for now, all Kentucky fans really need to take the time to appreciate what Stephen Johnson has done in the last 3 months for this season and for the future of this program.
“You dream of it all the time,” Johnson said. “To come down to a 2-minute drive against a ranked opponent. You think of that all the time.”
I’m sure Big Blue Nation will be thinking about that drive for quite some time, Stephen. If this is the reason you were brought here, they all have much to be thankful for this week.