By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
may catch a hun-
dred balls a day, sprinting from a flanker position and turning up field, cutting to the outside and watching as a ball spirals into his hands. A hundred times a day he may catch the ball and dart downfield, slowing as a coach blows the whistle and he lines up to do it all over again.
There is no glaring spotlight in practice, no critical eye of the camera. Millions of fans are not watching.
Johnson's great catches are marveled at only by his teammates and a few reporters. Yet Johnson approaches every practice, every play in practice, as if it's the big play in the big game.
In fact, his nickname is "7 Eleven," because he's always open.
"You need to work hard," Johnson said. "I'm not good enough. I want to take my game to another level. Everybody praises me on how good I am, but that is just a bunch of B.S. If I can elevate my game to another level Ÿ like (Jerry) Rice, (Michael) Irvin or (Sterling) Sharpe, who are making the big bucks, do Ÿ then I'll be satisfied.
"I tell myself, 'If they can work their butts off to get where they're at, then why can't I do the same thing?' "
There is no denying
that Johnson is
quickly becoming a star. He is the brightest light on one of the brightest teams in college football. Yet the spotlight has always been on him. Heisman Trophy candidate and All-America honors are just the latest in a long string of accolades. Johnson began his barrage of awards early when he was named to the All-Los Angeles City 4-A first team, the Los Angeles Times All-Central City first team and the All-Pacific League first team as a senior in high school. In '93 he attended West Los Angeles Community College, earning first-team honors in a number of publications, including the J.C. Grid-Wire All-American first team.
"The hype hasn't affected me at all," Johnson said. "I've always been a hyped man. If that is what they want to do then I'll give them what they want.
"As far as the Heisman goes, that's not up to me. It's important to me, but it's important to the team as a whole. That's included with that national championship, that undefeated season, that Rose Bowl victory."
Johnson loves the spotlight. He is one of those people who warms to it with a flashy grin and a smart swagger. He struck a Heisman pose at the end of last season's Cotton Bowl, in which he caught eight passes for 222 yards as USC won 55-14 over Texas Tech.
"Keyshawn Johnson is playing great," Trojan coach John Robinson said. "He's as good a wide receiver as I've ever seen."
As a 6-foot 4-inch, 210-pound wide receiver with speed, quickness, great hands and the ability to lose a defender, Johnson has all the tools he needs to become a great wide receiver. His height makes it tough for smaller defensive backs to cover him and his size makes it hard for them to bring him down.
Johnson had 66 recep
tions for 1,362 yards
and nine touchdowns in his first season with the Trojans. He was just the third USC player to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season and has moved up to 21st on the Southern Cal career reception chart. He had nine 100-yard games last season, tying Johnnie Morton's USC season record. Last year, he burned Arizona's secondary for 109 yards on five receptions.
"Keyshawn is going to catch passes no matter what you do," Arizona coach Dick Tomey said. "We're not going to keep Keyshawn from catching passes. It's kind of like playing against a great basketball player Ÿ he's going to get his points. We hope he doesn't get points, but he's going to catch some passes."
The Trojans are ranked fifth in the nation, their highest ranking since the 1991 season. USC finished 13th in '94. The pressure is on Southern Cal this year, and it's especially on its senior leader.
"I don't think I've ever played for a No. 5 team in the nation," Johnson said. "But that doesn't mean anything right now. We have a game coming up in Tucson and that is what is important."
It seemed almost predestined that Johnson would become part of the USC family. He grew up in the projects, right outside of the Rose Bowl, a notoriously crime-ridden area. He could have easily fallen like so many other inner-city youths, but Johnson had good role models.
As a child, he was a Trojan ballboy who perched himself on the shoulders of stars such as Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen and Tim McDonald. Ironically, Southern Cal wasn't the place Johnson would have chosen first to play football.
"In high school I wanted to be a Miami Hurricane, because of the coaching that they had," Johnson said. "But when the time came, I was asked to come to USC and my decision was made."
Johnson has worked hard to give back to the community. He volunteers to talk with inner-city youths and point them in the right direction. He has not let the hype get to him when it comes to the community or the classroom.
"I'm not a Rhodes scholar by any means," Johnson said, "but I get it done in the classroom. I go to class and I learn what they teach me."
Come Saturday, however, when Arizona plays Southern Cal, it may be the UA defensive backs that become the students.
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