Johnson banks on his World experience Redskins receiver in familiar setting

July 23, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

CARLISLE, Pa. -- Joe Johnson has no problem remembering when he first heard that the Washington Redskins had drafted Desmond Howard last April.

"I just got off the plane coming from Frankfurt, and I was going through customs in Dallas when some guy who just happened to be there walked over. I just happened to be the guy there when he said, 'in case anybody is interested, Washington moved up to the fourth pick and picked Desmond Howard.' "

Johnson's reaction?

"Of course, I was sick from then on," said Johnson, a Redskins' wide receiver. Then he laughed. He can laugh about it now even though the selection of Howard could be his ticket out of town.

As soon as Howard signs, he'll join the Redskins' Posse -- Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders -- as one of the top four receivers on a team that sometimes keeps only four.

Johnson will be fighting Stephen Hobbs and the rest of the receivers in camp for the fifth spot -- if there is a fifth spot.

"You guys write me off every year and I seem to stick around. That's my attitude this year . . . I'm not worried about the Posse. I'm not worried about Desmond . . . my back's against the wall, but I've been there before," he said.

"You start thinking too much and worrying about things you don't need to worry about, and you're not going to go out there and perform the way you're supposed to," he said.

One thing Johnson's got going for him is that he proved he can play this spring when he spent a season in the World League.

"I got out of it what I expected to. I wanted to show people I can catch the ball and run with it. That's what I did. I had a blast," he said.

Playing for the Orlando Thunder, he was one of the stars in the league on a team that made the World Bowl. He was named to the All-World League team.

For the Redskins -- he broke his wrist last October and spent the rest of the season on the injured reserve list -- he has caught only three passes in three seasons.

In Orlando, he caught 56 passes for 687 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season. He was third in the league in catches and second in punt return average (11.1 yards) as he returned 14 for 155 yards and a touchdown.

In the first quarter of a 45-7 playoff victory over Birmingham, he had a 45-yard touchdown reception from Scott Mitchell, and a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown as the Thunder jumped to a 23-0 lead. He finished with 7 catches for 98 yards.

In the World Bowl, he caught 7 more for 79 yards, but his team lost to the Sacramento Surge, 21-17.

"That was my Super Bowl (he wasn't active for the Super Bowl last January)," he said.

Johnson's only complaint about the league is that they called him Joe Howard Johnson and nicknamed him Hojo. He was known as Joe Howard (his mother's maiden name) when he played at Notre Dame and joined the Redskins, but now goes by Joe Johnson (his father's name).

"I just wanted to go by Johnson, but they got that little niche out of calling me HoJo and I left it at that," he said.

Overall, though, Johnson's a walking advertisement for the World League. "I'm telling the young guys now, 'if you ever get a chance, go play in the World League.' You can't help from benefit by it. It's a good experience. I'm surprised a lot of other guys don't go down there and play," he said.

Coach Joe Gibbs said he also thinks the time in the World League helped Johnson.

"He was a star and got the ball thrown to him and I think it helped his confidence," Gibbs said.

Johnson, though, knows the odds are stacked against him.

When a reporter wished him good luck, he said, "I'm going to need it. Thank you."

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