May 24, 2022

Waiting his turn, UCF’s Amari Johnson shines in spring game – Young Gazzate

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Amari Johnson has had to wait his turn.

In a new college football world in which players regularly enter the NCAA transfer portal instead of riding the bench, the Miami native has stayed loyal to UCF.

Despite a coaching change halfway through his 4 years and sitting on the depth chart behind wide receivers like Gabriel Davis, Jacob Harris and Tre Nixon — who are all in the NFL now — Johnson never wavered.

“That was pretty much the best thing for me,” Johnson said. “Just to learn from those guys and be able to take what those guys did on the field, [I] implement it into my style of play.”

Johnson showed why the wait was worth it during Saturday’s spring game when he caught 4 passes for 66 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the first score of the intrasquad scrimmage.

“It felt really good,” he said. “Going into my senior year, it just felt good to be able to perform at a high standard for the crowd and for my coaches and improve from last spring. Everything felt good.”

Johnson arrived at UCF in the summer of 2019 and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass in his debut against FAMU. That season he appeared in seven games as a receiver and on special teams.

The next year he saw the field in two more games, but only caught 3 passes for 12 yards on the season while mostly playing on special teams.

In Gus Malzahn’s first year in Orlando, Johnson saw his role expand as he started to become a jack of all trades.

He finished fourth on the team with 23 catches, totaling 138 receiving yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 7 times for 27 yards and a touchdown. On special teams, he returned 9 punts for 79 yards and recorded 6 tackles.

When asked if he had a favorite play from last season, Johnson changed the direction of his answer towards his teammates instead of himself.

“I’m a team guy,” he said. “So, any moment that I can have with the guys out there, whether I’m playing or if I’m on the sidelines just chopping it up, every game is the best moment.”

Johnson said his spring game performance helped his confidence greatly and he explained how Malzahn has helped him improve on and off the field.

“Since Coach Gus has been here, he’s always been big on the small details and that’s something that I’ve wanted to improve on since last year,” Johnson said. “Details can possibly mess up an entire play whether you’re lined up wrong or you’re out of position.

“Being able to dial into the small details, routes, just the extra work, the extra things that can allow me to go in and produce the way I did.”

Entering his senior season, Johnson is part of a wide receiver room that features Jaylon Robinson, Ryan O’Keefe, Jaylon Griffin, himself and newcomer Kobe Hudson among others.

Having waited to put on the type of performance he had Saturday, Johnson views himself as an example for his teammates.

“It allows me to show the other guys that if I can do it, you can do it too,” he said. “As long as we hold each other accountable, anything can be done.”

Email Jason Beede at jbeede@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on Twitter at @therealBeede.

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