Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt/J. Alan Paul Photography
It’s a rarity in college athletics for a true freshman to make a big impact on the field. Truthfully, that’s a tough ask for an 18-year-old kid. However, every season there is a grouping of fabulous freshmen that dazzle and make a difference right away.
Kobe Johnson was one of those freshmen that dazzled in year one.
It’s been overstated at this point, but Johnson was a late recruit to NDSU. Despite being underrecruited out of Lawrenceville, Georgia, Johnson used that as motivation to succeed at NDSU. The results were staggering for the 5-foot-9 speedster.
Johnson finished 2019 with 660 rushing yards on 86 attempts. His 7.7 yards per carry is a staggering number that should wow anyone with knowledge on the game of football. He scored four touchdowns on the ground and was able to eclipse the 100-yard mark twice in 2019. Johnson’s most memorable moment would likely be his 94-yard kick return touchdown against Youngstown State.
The running back has already made eye-popping plays as he heads into year two and an unorthodox football season.
True freshmen don’t always get the opportunities that you did last season. How did you find success so quickly in year one?
When I came in that summer, it was on my mind that I could play, but I was just there to work. I was putting my head down and going in and working every day at practice and in the weight room. When it came up that I was breaking the four-game rule and playing that fifth game, I was just taking extra steps and learning the offense or asking the older guys ahead of me and getting insight from anybody that I could. That helped me and gave me the confidence to go out there and play. My teammates having the confidence and belief in me helped me a lot as well.
Are there any lessons you learned as a freshman that you can take into this season at all?
Studying film and having good film habits will be back. One thing that I want to improve on myself is being a leader. Having that true freshman experience, there might be guys that look up to me because I did play last year. They might have questions for me so being that guy for them is big so leadership is huge for me as well.
Where do you think you have seen your biggest improvements on the field so far?
Understanding the game of football. Coming in, I understood some things like what an A gap is and things like that. Seeing the bigger picture like what the defensive linemen are doing or what is the safety doing.
The coaching staff and older guys have really helped me understand the game of football a lot more. That is one thing I would also like to
continue to understand more.
The running back room is relatively young heading into the spring. Do you guys kind of have a chip on your shoulder because you do have so many young guys?
We have had talks about that, but as a group, we have to lean on one another. We want to continue to hold each other accountable. That is all we really can do at this point. With us being young we have to continue to coach each other and lean on each other. We have to be
that rock for each other. Going into the spring, I would say there is a chip on our shoulder being that we are a younger group. A lot of people outside of NDSU might not think much of us because we are young. I promise you, we’re ready to play.
For you, how important was it to play the one fall football game against Central Arkansas? Was it nice to return to some sort of normalcy
Personally, I just wanted to see where I was physically in a game. The last game I played in was the championship game. Having all that time off and playing a game in October against a team that had played three, four games was good for us. It was also good for us to face a little adversity at the beginning of the game. To see that we were able to pull through, score 39 points, the defense did a great job, it was a lot of fun. That was some of the most fun I’ve had on the field in a long time. I wish we had another one, I wish we had a full season, but it is what it is.
How have you adjusted the way you practice and such since the football season will be happening in the spring rather than the fall?
We’re basically just flipping the calendar. Right now is our spring session basically where we have eight weeks of lifting and conditioning. When we come back in January after Christmas break, that will be fall camp. We’re flipping the calendar so we have to flip our mindset. Right now, we should be playing a season, but unfortunately, we’re not. We just have to keep our heads down and just work. Coach Kramer and all the other coaches are holding us accountable to make sure that we’re doing the things we should. They are helping us keep that football mindset so we’re ready to go when the season does come.