How does LeShon’s Cinderella season stack up against the greatest?

By Marc Wesner

A lot of things have been said and written about LeShon Johnson, and in some cases not enough, but as the year progressed, the roller coaster ride the Huskies season took lived and died on his heroics.

Johnson began the season with a goal, 1,500 yards and he would take his linemen out for dinner.,976 yards later, he is the fourth best single season rusher in NCAA Division I-A history, an All-American, a Heisman Trophy candidate, has his choice of post-season bowls to choose from and is many dinners poorer.

He wound up averaging almost 180 yards rushing on 327 attempts (6.04 yards per carry).

The season started slow with Johnson having pretty good but not particularly outstanding efforts in the first two games of the year. Iowa State held him to 102 yards in the season opener while Indiana only let him loose for 129.

Arkansas State paid dearly for their lack of rushing defense, allowing Johnson to run over them for 226 yards in the Huskies home opener. It was the first of five 200+ games the “Cowboy” would rack up for the season and a sign of things to come.

LeShon-A-Mania was launched on Oct. 2 when Johnson ran for a school record 322 yards and catapulted himself into the NCAA lead for rushing and all-purpose yardage.

From there, he never looked back.

The only question that remained was could he do it? Would he break 2,000?

As the season started to wind down, Johnson’s quest to join three of the elite runningbacks in the history of college football, Marcus Allen, Mike Rozier and Barry Sanders, all Heisman winners, took a severe jolt when starting QB Scott Crabtree sustained a separated shoulder.

With only two games left, the Huskies reduced to a fourth string student coach at quarterback and Johnson needing 494 yards to gain immortality, his hopes looked dim.

So what does he do? He shocks the world, not to mention Iowa, by running for 306 yards and establishing four records in one game.

The effort put him within 83 yards going into the season finale against Mississippi. With a season low of 92 yards, a mere 83 would be a cakewalk for an All-American.

But his quest came up a hip-pointer short by 24 yards.

While his accomplishments are becoming nationally recognized as the season comes to an end, some (most) of the luster has been taken off his phenomenal season by coming so close only to watch others play.

To put his season in perspective, it should be noted that in Rozier’s Heisman Trophy year, Rozier played in one more game than Johnson but was 33 yards behind him going into his last game of the year.

It should also be noted that each of the three other 2,000-yard rushers played on teams that were ranked in the top 15 in the nation. NIU couldn’t even gain a bowl bid in the weak and feeble Big West Conference.

Marcus Allen defied the Sports Illustrated curse by appearing on the cover during his 2,342 yard season that set the measure of excellence for others to follow.

Allen played on a USC team that was ranked first in the nation at one point of the season, while finishing the year with a 9-2 ledger playing some of the premiere teams in the country at the time.

He rushed for eight 200-yard games, a national record. Five of those eight games came consecutively, another record.

His season “low” was a meager 147-yard plunge against Notre Dame, a game the Trojans won 14-7.

The 2,000-yard mark was reached with a 155-yard effort in the tenth game of the season. Ironically USC lost to the Huskies of Washington 13-3.

Next came 1983 and Mike Rozier.

Rozier picked up 2,148 yards (7.81 yards per carry) on a 12-0 Nebraska Cornhusker squad that averaged 52 points a game.

He finished the regular season with 29 touchdowns and his team first in the nation (they lost the National Championship to Miami 31-30 on a last second two-point conversion.)

Then, in 1988, Barry Sanders became the greatest back in NCAA history.

Six 200+ yard games, three of which went over 300 yards (304 yards against Tulsa, 312 against Kansas, 320 against Kansas St. and 332 Texas Tech). He equalled Allen’s record for 200+ yard consecutive game run, while hitting the 2,000 mark in only nine games.

The product was a 2,628-yard bombardment that may never be seriously challenged.

Oklahoma State finished 9-2 that year with Sanders’ 39 TD’s anchoring another potent offense that averaged 52 points a game.

All three of these prolific runners won the Heisman, but if Johnson had gone over the 2,000 yard barrier, it’s still doubtful he could have wrenched the prestigious award from pre-season favorite Charlie Ward’s grasp.

But he was never interested in awards, they come with his accomplishments. He said from the beginning that if a Heisman guaranteed him as a first-round draft pick, then he was interested, if not, oh well.

However, Johnson’s spectacular year is continually sprouting more and more awards. Hopefully, a Heisman would be icing on the cake.