Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

I remember it as though it were yesterday. An article I had written about Fort Hill High School’s Ty Johnson receiving an offer to play football for the University of Maryland had appeared in that morning’s Cumberland Times-News.

As I sat down at my favorite spot in my favorite public house, I heard the bartender and the friend I had sat next to mumbling about this, that and the other, so I asked them if they had seen the article about Ty.

“Yeah, that’s what we were talking about,” said the bartender, who had once been an outstanding high school and college football player in his own right, in his own day. To which my friend, who knows entirely too much about football himself to have said what he was about to say, said, “He’ll never play a down at Maryland.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I know you guys aren’t Fort Hill guys, but after what we’ve seen the last two years, I don’t believe I would bet against Ty Johnson.”

What we had seen the previous two years was the 2015 Fort Hill graduate transform himself through nothing but hard work and will from being a skinny sophomore with outstanding straight-ahead speed into a two-time All-State all-purpose back and the first player in area history to be selected Area Player of the Year twice.

Johnson rushed for 3,363 yards (14.7 yards per carry) in those two seasons, scored 43 touchdowns, caught 27 passes for 715 yards and 13 touchdowns and returned five kicks for touchdowns to finish with 4,880 all-purpose yards. Defensively, he intercepted 17 passes and returned four for touchdowns.

And, oh yes, he led the Sentinels to two state championships in football (ending the school’s 16-year title drought) and one in track and field.

But he still won’t play a down at the University of Maryland?

Let’s take a look and see about that. How did Mr. Johnson spend his time in College Park?

Well, for beginners, he earned his degree in three years, which is the most important thing, but knowing Ty Johnson, not a surprising thing.

As for the number of downs he played for the Terps? Well, naturally, he didn’t play as many as we here in Cumberland believed he should have, but he played enough in four years to rank fourth in Maryland football history in rushing yards (2,635), kick return yards (1,194) and 100-yard rushing games (11).

Ty Johnson finished his career at the University of Maryland with over 4,000 career all-purpose yards, joining Terrapin greats Torrey Smith, LaMont Jordan and Stefon Diggs as the only Terps in history to do so.

And, oh yes, he returned kickoffs for touchdowns at Ohio State (100 yards) and Michigan (98 yards) in his career and rushed for 1,004 yards as a sophomore to become the ninth player in Maryland history to reach the milestone. In 2016, he set the Maryland record for yards per carry (minimum 100 attempts, by the way, so he did, ahem, play a down at Maryland) with 9.1.

Since that time, Johnson became the first Cumberland area player to be selected in the NFL draft since former Fort Hill and Maryland All-American Mark Manges (fourth round, Los Angeles Rams), being drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He became the first Cumberland player to play in the NFL since former Fort Hill and Maryland great Steve Trimble, who played three seasons with the Denver Broncos and one with the Chicago Bears in 1987.

He played sparingly for the Lions in 2019 but still rushed for 273 yards. He was released by the Lions last season but was signed as a free agent by the New York Jets for whom he rushed for 254 yards and caught 16 passes for 99 yards. He scored his first NFL touchdown and he rushed for over 100 yards in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams.

On Tuesday, Ty Johnson was one of four running backs named to the Jets’ 53-man roster by first-year head coach Robert Saleh.

Johnson is expected to open his third NFL season (how does that sound?) next week as one of the Jets’ top two running backs alongside Tevin Coleman, having solidified a prominent role with a strong camp. The Jets are expected to use a committee approach, including Johnson and Coleman, as well as fourth-round picks from the past two drafts in Michael Carter and La’Mical Perine.

Coleman will probably be first in line for touches, but Johnson has shown effectiveness as both a runner and a pass catcher, making him an option in virtually all situations.

And let’s not forget those 100-yard kickoff returns he had at the Horseshoe and the Big House a few years ago …

So, what have we learned here today? Nothing more than we’ve already known since the fall of 2013.

Yes, I remember it as though it were yesterday: “He’ll never play a down at Maryland …”

My silly friends really should begin to listen to me every now and then, for as I’ve told them a million times before, “Don’t ever … EVER … bet against Ty Johnson.”

If you do, he will love it. He will thrive on it. And he will make you pay.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT