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Leon Johnson III, Josiah Johnson Transforming from Lower-Level Standouts to Power Five Contributors

No matter where Josiah Johnson and Leon Johnson III came from, their talent is evident.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Josiah Johnson’s aching body is proof there’s a difference between Power Five football and the levels below it.

Mike Gundy shared a story Monday about Oklahoma State tight end Josiah Johnson being beat up and asking him if he’d be practicing or not. Gundy described the enormous bruise on Josiah Johnson’s thigh as black as Gundy’s black jeans. Josiah Johnson also has a broken toe, according to Gundy.

“It’s been going on for about a month,” Gundy said. “I was razzing him a little bit, basically making sure he was still gonna practice over the last few weeks because he’s beat up. He said, ‘Yeah, Coach, guys at this level hit a little harder than when I was at UMass.’

“He was just telling the truth. Kid’s just being honest. It’s interesting. It takes them awhile to adjust to the everyday wear and tear, in my opinion. I think that’s the adjustment.”

Josiah Johnson transferred from UMass, which plays at the FBS level as an independent but still isn’t playing Power Five-level programs on a weekly basis. Auburn and Penn State — both losses — are the only Power Five opponents on the Minutemen’s schedule this season.

Josiah Johnson and receiver Leon Johnson III were hot topics at Monday’s media luncheon. At the last luncheon a week before, some in the room might’ve not even known what position Leon Johnson III played. Josiah Johnson was written about more before the season started with the tight end position returning to Stillwater, but after that, crickets, for the most part.

Both abruptly emerged against Cincinnati on Saturday, though, as the Cowboys’ pass catchers were depleted by injury.

Josiah Johnson has played all season, but Saturday still seemed like his introduction. OSU’s first points of the game came via a 29-yard receiving touchdown from Josiah Johnson, who Alan Bowman found wide open to strut into the end zone. It was Johnson’s first touchdown as a Cowboy after transferring from UMass. He has 12 catches for 112 yards and the touchdown on the season.

Leon Johnson’s emergence was even more improbable. Last year, he was a two-sport athlete playing football and baseball for Division-III George Fox in Oregon. There, he was a first-team All-American in football and Northwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year last season.

Leon Johnson’s size is Power Five-worthy at 6-foot-5, and he showed Saturday, so is his ability. He played because of multiple injuries throughout OSU’s receiving corps. Leon Johnson led all Cowboy receivers with five catches for 149 yards. It was the most receiving yards by an OSU receiver this season. And after that performance, despite lack of playing time early in the season, Gundy doesn’t plan for him to redshirt.

Even outside the numbers, Leon Johnson’s actual plays popped off, too. He looked like a DI standout in the second quarter when he turned back to catch an underthrown ball over a defender before sprinting for a 67-yard gain.

“I think we were all surprised and very impressed with his performance in essentially his first game at this level,” Gundy said. “He has shown signs in practice of performing at a high level. Practice is one thing, games are another. We talked about that a number of times that until we get a young man on the field in a game you never know what they can do.”

Gundy has never been anywhere that wasn’t a Power Five program as a coach or player, so he said he wasn’t sure of the differences between the levels. He has realized, though, that finding those diamonds in the rough from the depths is becoming rare. He even explained why because of technology and easier ways to find more talent.

Either way, it seems Gundy and his staff pulled off that rare feat with Josiah Johnson and Leon Johnson.

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