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August 23, 2013

Johnson will see the field

Just a short time ago, Fabian Johnson was finishing up his senior year of high school. In less than one week, he'll be playing in front of 75,000 people under the lights at Spartan Stadium.

A true freshman out of Miami, Fla., it wasn't clear at the time of Johnson's signing whether he would play or redshirt in his first year. His blazing speed, though, has forced the coaching staff to get him in the game.

That starts next Friday in East Lansing, where a hostile environment is sure to greet the Broncos. While you never know for sure until the ball is kicked, Johnson says he's ready to go and nerves won't be a factor.

"We'll fight to the end. The high school that I came from, we played in front of some nice crowds," Johnson said. "I might have some butterflies at first but I'm just going to try to stay focused and give it my all. I feel like I can play with anybody."

It wasn't an easy choice for the 5-foot-7, 192 pound Johnson to come up north to WMU. He acknowledged the weather almost made him balk.

Despite offers from nearby Florida Atlantic and Florida International as well as Tulane in warm New Orleans, Johnson couldn't pass up the opportunity at WMU. Also benefiting the Broncos was the presence of so many Florida players on their roster.

"That actually played a big role in me coming here. My first thought was 'God, it's going to be cold. How am I going to get over it?'," he explained. "When I acknowledged that there were a lot of Florida kids up here, I actually felt more comfortable and at home. Knowing that all the backs leave, I saw playing time and that pretty much helped me."

Johnson may not have much in the way of height, but what stands out about him in person is actually his size. At 192 pounds, he is hardly small and combined with his sub-4.4 speed (as measured at a Miami camp) he could be a more balanced runner than originally anticipated.

In talking to BroncoBlitz, Johnson even alluded to exactly that.

"I'm pretty balanced. I'm a downhill runner, I catch the ball out of the backfield, use a little speed… so I'm pretty much playing all around," he said. "The hardest part is being consistent with the speed. I'm pretty fast but it's the speed of the game is actually fast and it's just more give and give and give… how long can I hold it and how much can I give?"

With Tevin Drake suspended indefinitely, Johnson's role becomes that much more important adding depth to a running back group that includes seniors Dareyon Chance, Antoin Scriven and Brian Fields.

It also remains to be seen if head coach P.J. Fleck will use Johnson in a kick returning role, which would seem to be a natural spot.

On-field uses aside, it's very interesting to hear Johnson talk about his relationship with Fleck. Back at Fleck's National Signing Day press conference, the first-year head coach talked about Johnson as one of his favorite players because of his outgoing nature, saying he was "like the mayor of Miami Northwestern High School".

To hear Johnson talk about Fleck, it's clear there is a mutual connection.

"When I first met Fleck he was exciting. Every time I spoke to him he put a smile on my face, and I felt that connection right then and there. I was ready to run through a brick wall for him. Row the boat. We're all in the boat and we're just rowing. Sacrificing it all for my teammates. We speak about family a lot. Forget about me, I love you. It's not all about you, it's about the program and the community." Johnson said.

Bronco fans will get their first look at Johnson and a number of the other true freshmen when WMU kicks off against Michigan State under the lights next Friday. In addition to Johnson, Austin Lewis, David Curle and Corey Davis are expected to play with others not yet ruled out.

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