Zac Johnson back on UM special teams 09.10.09

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Goal one: Play football for the University of Michigan. Check.

Goal two: Obtain a scholarship. Check.

Goal three: Start as a safety. Still in progress.

Morenci 2007 graduate Zac Johnson is advancing in his plans for a football career at Michigan. He joined the squad as a walk-on in his freshman year and was soon red-shirted. That was an exciting season, just to be part of the team, but a frustrating one when he was never able to walk onto the field.

That changed last season when he was a member of the special teams in all 12 Wolverine games. He tallied eight tackles, including a pair at Ohio State.johnson_zach_msu2008_3_wp.jpg

This year he’s back with the special teams. Look for Number 19 on kickoffs (third player from the right) and on punt block teams (on the right end). He’s also a tackle on the punt team, but he’s hoping not to get called into that role as often as last season. This year Michigan intends to see the number in the wins column grow.

“My goal was to play for Michigan and another goal was to get a scholarship,” Johnson said.

The 4.0-GPA Morenci graduate already had an academic scholarship, but the athletic award will cover his other costs. He figures about half of the players on the team have athletic scholarships, and joining that group makes him feel as though he’s really arrived.

“I always felt part of the team,” he said, “but this makes it a little easier to go in there every day.”

“In there” is to face the challenge of conditioning coach Mike Barwis.

Speed, power, agility.

“He’s a high-energy guy,” Johnson said. “He’s going to challenge you every day to push it a little further. It’s pretty intense, but I’m doing pretty well.”

That third goal—a starting role as a safety—is something he’s still working on. That effort was derailed by a neck injury during training camp. Johnson broke the hyoid bone in two places. He was in the hospital for two days and out of action for a week.

He can see some humor in the incident now, but it was painful at the time and frustrating to be unable to speak. There wasn’t much understandable coming out of his mouth in the hospital.

But what really hurt was his loss of practice time.

“I lost a week at camp and it’s tough to come back after that,” he said. “At the time I was battling for a second string spot.”

That would have led to time on the field beyond special teams. The season is young, however, and there’s still a possibility of moving upward.

Johnson is now majoring in sociology after changing from his original engineering major. The time demands from football made engineering studies a challenge, but he expects to attend graduate school when his football eligibility runs out and he might return to engineering.

For now, football is on his mind and he’ll be on the field Saturday in Ann Arbor when Notre Dame visits—the only Lenawee County player on the UM team. He picked up a pair of tackles last week against Western Michigan, so he’s already ahead of where he was a year ago at this time.

“I had a pretty solid game,” he said, and he intends to keep it that way on his climb upward.

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