LINCOLN — The lines up and down the Memorial Stadium turf might not be the only ones Wyoming receiver C.J. Johnson needs to negotiate Saturday.
He may also need to tiptoe the fine line between just doing his job and trying to do too much — the result of being on the opposite sideline of Nebraska when the Cowboys visit for an 11 a.m. game.
Johnson was passed over by NU in recruiting despite his status as a Husker legacy, his appetite to play for the program and his record-breaking numbers at Bellevue West.
Still, any thoughts of revenge are secondary to taking care of his own business.
“It would be more like that if it was the old coaching staff, I guess,” Johnson said. “But I’m still going to go there and show them what they really could have had. I’m excited nonetheless just to go and play there.”
After redshirting last season, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound Johnson made his Wyoming debut last week with one reception in the triple-overtime win over Northern Illinois. He was coming off a good spring, including four receptions for 118 yards and a 62-yard touchdown in the Cowboys’ spring game.
Until committing to Wyoming, Johnson always believed any games at Memorial Stadium would be as a Husker.
“Going in there as the enemy, it’s definitely going to be something I never imagined,” he said. “But I’m going to take this opportunity full speed ahead. I can’t wait.”
Same goes for his father, former Nebraska wingback Clester Johnson, who will sit in the Wyoming section and also purchased 25 other tickets for family and friends who will watch C.J. play on Clester’s old turf.
“I would describe it as surreal,” said Clester, a member of the 1994 and ’95 national championship teams. “I’ve told most of my Husker friends and fans that when they’re not playing Wyoming that I’ll always be rooting for Nebraska. Just one week I can’t do it.”
C.J. was the Gatorade player of the year after his senior season at Bellevue West, when he caught 63 passes for 1,214 yards and 20 touchdowns. He set Class A season and career records for receptions and receiving yards, and his 3,548 career receiving yards also stand as the all-class state record.
But lukewarm interest from the former NU staff left Johnson to explore other options, with Wyoming, Western Michigan and several FCS schools taking up the chase.
For Cowboys coach Craig Bohl, snatching one of the Metro Conference’s best players likely can only help with efforts to boost recruiting in Omaha and the state.
“C.J. is a very gifted athlete,” said Bohl, the former Nebraska defensive coordinator. “He’s got great hand-eye coordination, and you’ll see us integrate him into our offense. We do have two senior receivers who probably get the lion’s share of the reps, but C.J. is a guy you’ll see out there. I’m sure he’ll play some meaningful reps in Saturday’s game.”
Johnson said he made some mistakes against Northern Illinois but played better as the game went on, “and I thought I contributed to the best of my ability.”
It was tough and different sitting out last season — especially after a prolific high school career — but he said looking back that it was for the best.
“I’m definitely a lot more prepared than I would have been if I played as a true freshman,” he said. “That year to get you ready definitely helps. People are always disappointed when they have to redshirt, but it’s never a bad deal. As Coach Bohl said, you lose your worst year for your best year.”
Johnson said he probably has attended more than 20 Husker games. Memorial Stadium was always the place to be. NU summer camps were part of the annual routine.
It worked out differently than expected with C.J., but Clester Johnson now is planning to see all but one Wyoming game this season. That’s easier because Clester’s younger son, Cade, is redshirting at South Dakota State.
“It’s just kind of ironic that he’s back in town on the other side,” Clester Johnson said.