While the only reason in the world many of us here would even be watching the preseason opener of the Detroit Lions was a pretty darn good reason — Cumberland’s Ty Johnson — it initially came as a surprise that Fox channel 2 in Detroit would lead off its pregame show with a feature about the former Fort Hill Sentinel and University of Maryland Terrapin.
But, really, by this time, why should it have come as a surprise, right?
Every place that Under The Radar has taken Ty Johnson has led to his being noticed in quite the “look at that” manner, be it by former Maryland head coach Randy Edsall, who offered the under-recruited Johnson a scholarship at a walk-up tryout camp in College Park, to the Maryland fans who were initially skeptical about the kid from Western Maryland, to Big Ten fans and media who saw him blaze through their hallowed old stadiums across the land and to the Detroit Lions who used their sixth-round pick in the NFL draft on the kid who wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine.
“This kid is a go-getter,” said Fox 2 reporter Jennifer Hammond, who did the feature on Johnson. “He’s worked hard from day one.”
Sound familiar? It sure looked familiar, as there on the screen was Ty Johnson in his Fort Hill uniform, as well as with his mother, Tracy Johnson, with his family and Fort Hill coach Todd Appel signing his letter-of-intent to Maryland, and then racing all over the Big Ten during his days as Maryland’s fastest player.
And then there was Ty Johnson practicing at Lions training camp where many have been regarding him to be the team’s No. 3 running back based on his practice reps and the team’s release of longtime running back Theo Riddick.
The Lions, of course, are enamored with Johnson’s speed, as former NFL offensive lineman and Lions analyst T.J. Lynch pointed out, “He ran a 4.2, 4.4 40 so the first thing that sticks out is speed.”
It was then pointed out to former Lions wide receiver great Herman Moore, now a Lions analyst, that Johnson returned kickoffs for touchdowns at Michigan and at Ohio State while a member of the Terps, which Moore said makes the possibilities endless.
“Special teams might be his ticket,” Moore said. “Special teams is a big ticket. It’s a door that’s available and that’s open and a lot of players miss when it’s time to make the team.
“I am a little envious of his speed and of his hair.”
While Lions head coach Matt Patricia didn’t mention Johnson’s hair (the Lions coach has a pretty nice head of it himself), he did make it clear in the piece that the running back doesn’t appear to be the type to miss an opportunity.
“He’s been very consistent out on the field,” Patricia said, “and I think you can see his skill set every single day. And there are things that show up every day that are really good from the standpoint of what fits in with the things that we do.
“And the other part of it,” the Lions head coach added; “in the classroom, the mental part of it ... He has just handled all of that and has kept pushing and pushing.”
Which, for any of us who remember the hot summer days of seeing Fort Hill sophomore Ty Johnson working out by himself at Greenway Avenue Stadium, or seeing him at the South Cumberland Library every night after school, this fits perfectly with everything else we’ve come to learn about him, as Hammond herself pointed out, she is learning as well.
“No brakes; all gas, just keep on going,” Johnson said in the feature. “There are going to be bumps in the road, but the road to success is not a straight road. It’s going to have turns, bumps, potholes and everything you just have to learn to deal with; roll with the punches, get up and keep moving forward.”
As for the game, things were not pretty if you are a Lions fan (and it’s safe to say we are), as the defending world champion Patriots looked the part (even though you’d have been hard-pressed to recognize any of the players they used) in beating the Lions, 31-3. The Lions held out many of their key players as well, but still turned in a pretty ugly performance, as the home fans booed at the end of the first half.
Johnson, however, was the team’s leading rusher, gaining 22 yards on three carries, and showed on two occasions his ability to get to the edge with his speed, picking up two nice gains.
Johnson has also gained notice from Lions fans on social media and from the media itself, as Justin Rogers wrote in his Lions stock report for the Detroit News, “Stock up: Running back Ty Johnson.
“Johnson finished with a modest line, carrying the ball three times for 22 yards. He also had a 13-yarder wiped off the books by Wiggins’ hold. That carry, and a 17-yarder in the second half, showcased the rookie’s advertised quickness to the edge and top gear once he got to the corner of the defense.”
Johnson was also named Lions Preseason Week 1 Player of the Game by Matt Urben of LionsWire.usatoday.com.
What’s next for Ty Johnson? Another week of training camp, another week of practice, another week of study, another week of rolling with the punches and of moving forward before it’s off to Houston to take on the Texans Saturday night.
And for all of us, another week of figuring out how to watch a Detroit Lions preseason game for the second time in our lives.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeCTN.