Kevious Johnson article from The State

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Kevious Johnson article from The State

Postby BestOfBreed on Thu Sep 14, 2006 11:39 am ... 513257.htm

Wofford’s Kevious Johnson renewed focus on football — and life

SPARTANBURG — Six dollars an hour cannot pay off a looming mistake. Working shirtsleeves deep in grime and dust cannot undo one wrong — even when everything, for two years, had gone right.

It just passes the time.

Wiring air conditioners and installing cabinets in recreational vehicles passed seven months for Wofford halfback Kevious (pronounced key-vee-us) Johnson. Every 6 a.m. wake-up call a reminder that he was academically ineligible for what was supposed to be his junior season. Instead of taking his 1,035 rushing yards as a sophomore — the most by a Wofford back in 25 seasons — and leaving it in the dust, Johnson instead left Coachmen Industries, an RV factory in Fitzgerald, Ga., covered in it.

Johnson would not confirm the reason he was ruled ineligible, but he admitted this week that it was a “terrible mistake” that compelled him to take a close look at life without a college education. He spent 40-50 hours per week working on four-wheel travel trailers, earning a $6-an-hour base salary with opportunities for his department to earn production bonuses for completing as many as six RVs in a day.

“I could tell in his voice that he wanted to be here,” said Brian Kemp, a Wofford defensive back who is Johnson’s friend and fraternity brother. “I could tell that it really hurt him to miss that semester. He really wanted to be here and show out; that’s what we call it, showing out. The money was good. But Kevious, he loves football. He lives and breathes football. It just wasn’t an option.”

Neither were Wofford’s chances of moving forward without its star rusher. The Terriers, whose base offense is the triple option, were without their best playmaker. Johnson, who had started since his freshman season — and helped the team reach the Division I-AA national semifinals that year — had his hands full in Fitzgerald. The Terriers plugged in sophomore Michael Hobbs but finished the season 6-5 and sixth in the eight-team Southern Conference.

Johnson, in the meantime, got his football fix by leaving work at 3:30 p.m. to attend football practices at Fitzgerald High, where he was the team’s volunteer running backs coach.

There were days, Fitzgerald coach Robby Pruitt said, that Johnson worked late at Coachmen and spent practice in work boots and jeans. Johnson, who said he hopes to someday return to Fitzgerald and work full-time on Pruitt’s staff, said it was another means to pass the time until he was allowed to return to Wofford this past January.

When he did, Johnson was slightly slower, one teammate said, and about 15 pounds on the north end of his ideal weight, Terriers coach Mike Ayers said. It was clear that Johnson had spent his first year out of football since age nine — but Ayers said it also was clear that Johnson was eager to move past his setback.

“The thing you lose is the time, the growth, the involvement — moving things forward,” Ayers said. “It’s one of those lessons he learned and turned into a positive. He came back, and the thing he came back with was a hunger to play.”

Johnson averaged nine yards on his 22 carries and is Wofford’s leading rusher through two games. He packed away much of his earnings from Coachmen into a savings account, and he spent some of the money making improvements to his car, a 1982 Chevrolet Caprice that Johnson said is now worth thousands more than the $400 he paid for it.

The most noticeable improvement, however, has come in Johnson’s outlook; he looked disappointment in the eye a year ago and felt as if the Terriers moved on while he was standing still.

Kemp, the Terriers defensive back, said Johnson’s absence could not have created a larger hole. His return could not have issued a more satisfying relief.

“It gave us that feeling that, ‘All right, it’s going to be all right. We went 6-and-5, but it’s OK: Kevious is back,’ ” Kemp said. “You know when the storm comes and the sun comes out? That’s what it was like when Kevious came back.”

Johnson said he learned that he must be smart in all his choices, even if, according to current and former coaches and teammates, last year’s incident was an isolated one.

He said he must remain focused on results, regardless of the manner in which he reaches them.

“In the plant, you work to get that check at the end of the week,” he said. “In school, you get paid with grades. Every time I go out there on the field, I say, ‘It’s time to clock in.’ When that clock expires and we’re on top, that’s how I get paid now.”

If Johnson’s return pays as many dividends as the junior’s lesson, the Terriers will be Johnson’s most reliable project yet.

Reach Babb at (803) 771-8357.
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