By LARRY VAUGHT
A few months ago California junior college quarterback Stephen Johnson admitted he knew a little bit about the University of Kentucky football program but little about the players or coaches.
That changed after Kentucky coach Mark Stoops let offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and receivers coach Tommy Mainord go and quarterbacks Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips both decided to transfer. New quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw and his boss, Eddie Gran, came from Cincinnati to UK and it didn’t take long for Hinshaw to reach out to Johnson.
Johnson joked Thursday that Hinshaw asked him to send a video of him throwing. Of course, Johnson had to go out, set up a video camera and then send the video to Hinshaw. But the UK coach liked what he saw and Johnson is now enrolled at UK
Johnson completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 3,210 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 10 games at College of the Desert in California last season after transferring from Grambling. He also gained 429 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 126 carries.
“I definitely never thought a few months ago that I would be here now,” Johnson said Thursday. “But I knew the other two quarterbacks here had left and that created a void at quarterback. That created a chance for me to compete with only a couple of guys.”
That would be sophomore Drew Barker, who coach Mark Stoops indicated would be the starter when last season ended, and true freshman Gunnar Hoak, who enrolled at UK in January. Johnson says they are “great quarterbacks with a whole lot of talent” but he still feels he can be the starter.
“I bring a great deal of talent to the team and I can help these guys to a championship and win games,” Johnson said. “They were going to run everything. Not just spread and not just pro-style. We are going to do everything we can to win games with our offense.”
“A lot of coaches tell you what you want to hear, but they really told me exactly what was going to happen: I’m going to get a chance to compete. A lot of coaches may tell you that they’ll guarantee you that you’ll start, but these coaches definitely told me I’ve got a chance to compete to get that starting spot on the team.”
Johnson did admit he has to gain weight. He weighs 175 now.
“I try to play like I’m 250, like Cam Newton,” said Johnson.
He said he is eating five meals and five snacks per day to gain weight.
“I have been talking with the head nutritionist here. We are trying to get about 20 pounds on me by summer. That is a definitely a process but we are dealing with it. Eating all the time and getting the right food in me to gain 20 pounds,” Johnson said.
The one issue he can’t change, though, is the weather. His first week in Lexington saw about eight inches of snow.
“I think it was 70 degrees yesterday in Southern California,” Johnson said Thursday. “It was like 10 degrees three days ago here. It’s definitely different, but I look forward to it.”
What about the blizzard?
“I just had to make sure I got some thicker clothes,” he laughed and said.