Iowa came into 2022 looking for a replacement for last season’s 1,000-yard rusher, Tyler Goodson. The prevailing thought was that Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams would be the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 and No. 2 running backs.
That still may be the case, but true freshman Kaleb Johnson took advantage of his opportunity on Saturday and made a statement against Nevada that he’d like some of those carries, too, please.
On just seven carries, Johnson racked up 103 rushing yards and a pair of touchdown runs of 40 and 55 yards that represent two of Iowa’s biggest plays from scrimmage all season.
“My heart just dropped. It was like my heart dropped and I just felt so relieved, so amazed and I was just ready to score another one, so it was just, it was very amazing,” Johnson said of his emotions crossing into the end zone for the first time.
As noted above, he did go ahead and score another touchdown run against the Wolf Pack. Now, he looks like a serious factor in the Hawkeyes’ backfield. It’s something the Hamilton, Ohio, native didn’t anticipate would happen this quickly.
“No. Not at all. I thought I wouldn’t be in until like the sixth game, sixth, seventh game. Probably get into a blowout game or something like that. Never thought I’d be in this early and doing this well, so it’s just a blessing,” Johnson said.
The 6-foot, 212 pound running back was quick to credit his teammates and coaching staff for his swift progression into potential stardom.
“Just my team. I mean, they helped me from day one since I got here. They just provided me and told me what to do and what not to do there, so just helped me progress and told me what to do. On the offensive side and especially on the defensive side, too, they told me, too, so just the whole team, coach (Ladell) Betts. The whole team and the coaching staff, too,” Johnson said.
While it technically went against some of camp’s unwritten rules, Hawkeye starting quarterback Spencer Petras was taken by Johnson’s approach from the first moment he saw him.
“Yeah, you know, I vividly remember our first day of camp. We were in shells, so that’s like we’re not wearing pads, and this dude was running through tackles and stuff, which is kind of like the unwritten rule of what you don’t do in shells. Just like, you know, you don’t want to get anyone hurt, but, so, yeah, I knew that was coming. He’s a really good player, especially for a freshman. Just got to keep building. You know, I’m sure there’s going to be some really good stuff on tape for him, and probably some stuff he should clean up. Sky’s the limit for him, though,” Petras said.
Johnson agreed with the assessment and said it’s all part of the preparation.
“Yeah, that’s what I do. I always run hard, finish in practice, because it leads to a game. I always practice hard, leads to a game, so I did it,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz expounded upon that point from Petras and Johnson’s play thus far.
“What Spencer described was a guy who just got here out of high school the first couple practices. He has a good attitude. He has a little energy to him that’s fun. He’s not, naive is not the right word, but it’s all new to him, so it’s kind of fresh. He has been fun to work with and he has done things. He has been in the other games, but hasn’t really looked great.
“It was good to see him run with confidence tonight and he got a little bit of daylight and knew what to do with that, that’s for sure. Coincidentally, there’s a run he made in camp that was very similar to a couple that he made tonight. That was good to see that transfer over to a game field. Hopefully that will be good for his confidence and it’s going to help us. The more the merrier from that standpoint,” Ferentz said.
Johnson admitted to just what Ferentz touched on there. It took the first several games for Johnson to begin to get comfortable and just be himself running the football.
“Yeah, a lot. My first and second game. First game, I stutter stepped. I was kind of a little bit nervous and scared a little bit, because I didn’t know. That was my first time. Second game, got in there, got a little first down. It was cool,” Johnson said when asked if there was any difference in the way he ran.
“And then, third game, this one I just turned it on and just went up from here. It was really just me getting used to the environment, getting used to the players and getting used to the other teams that we play. So, I mean, it was just up from there.”
Now, with his confidence soaring, it’s about continuing to do what he loves and continuing to do it very, very well.
“Yeah, it was very…I loved doing that, especially in front of the environment, so it was very fun putting my name out there, putting it known. I love Hawkeye football. Love it,” Johnson said.
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