AMES — Shontrelle Johnson couldn’t have known.
In the wake of one of his best days as an Iowa State running back — which culminated in a wild 44-41 triple-overtime home win over Iowa last season — the native Floridian celebrated like an Iowan.
Three weeks later, his career appeared in grave jeopardy after he sustained a severe neck injury against Texas.
Needless to say, it’s been quite the journey — and it circles back to the Hawkeyes in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. Cy-Hawk Series game at Kinnick Stadium.
“Those are always images that are going to stick with you,” Johnson said of last year’s first of two fans-rushing-the-field memories at Jack Trice Stadium. “Magical moments at the Jack, you know? We’re all fond of those.”
Kinnick, not so much.
The Cyclones haven’t won there since Seneca Wallace led them back from 17 points down to a 36-31 triumph in 2002.
And the only other time Johnson played at Kinnick, as a freshman in 2010?
Four carries, nine yards as a backup.
ISU managed 78 total rushing yards in the 35-7 loss.
“It’s a tough environment to play in,” he said.
Johnson still starred in two long kick returns that day — one went for 62 yards, but everything else proved anti-magical.
He and his leading tailback cohort, James White, aim to change that this time around.
Their prospects look solid. Last season, Johnson rolled up 118 yards against Iowa. White scored the game-winning touchdown, which he seems to hardly remember.
“It was something that just happened that day, even though it was against the Iowa Hawkeyes,” the soft-spoken Texan said with a shrug. “It’s a new year. That Cy-Hawk trophy, I’ll bet they probably want to get it back.”
Sure they do.
But they’ll have to corral him and Johnson to do it.
“That one-two punch, if you will, running and catching the football as well as protecting our quarterback can be very advantageous for us,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said.
It proved pretty powerful in last week’s 38-23 win over Tulsa.
Johnson, who was cleared to play in late July, totaled 120 yards on 18 carries.
White added 54 yards on 10 totes while serving as the clean-up hole-hitter.
It’s a “who’s hot” proposition in ISU’s deep backfield, which also includes explosive redshirt freshman DeVondrick Nealy and bruising, short-yardage specialist Jeff Woody.
“It will always be our deepest position because those guys get banged up like no other,” said Rhoads, who hopes to level his head coaching mark against Iowa at 2-2. “But we had numbers there so we were in pretty good shape even with the unknown of (Johnson’s) return.”
So now Johnson returns to Kinnick.
Is there good magic there this time?
Perhaps, but he acknowledges it’s generally tough to conjure up.
“You can’t hear anything,” Johnson said. “Guys have to be on their Ps and Qs as far as as communication and making the right calls — just being mentally locked in.”
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