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OTTAWA — There are two sides to Marquette two-way standout Curtiss Johnson, which perhaps is fitting given the double ‘S’ that caps off his unique first name.
“He’s a very special young man. He’s very polite and very mild mannered, but he’s a fierce competitor,” explains MA coach Tom Jobst. “He’s a guy you can always count on. He always does what he’s supposed to do, performs very well and he’s a leader.”
The undefeated Crusaders have counted on Johnson plenty this season.
In his starring role on offense, the bruising running back has used a down and dirty running style between the hashes to ramble for 816 yards and 14 touchdowns — the area’s second-highest total in both categories so far this fall — and hauled in three passes for 97 yards and a score.
Defensively, the hard-hitting safety who is among Marquette’s leading tacklers has helped lock down a Crusader defense that has given up just 10.9 points per game. He also has a blocked punt and fumble recovery to his credit.
Marquette quarterback Patrick Killelea has had plenty of chances to watch Johnson barrel down the field with the ball in his hands this fall.
He’s impressed with what he’s seen.
“He’s a mule. It takes two or three guys to bring him down. It’s almost never just one guy making a tackle,” Killelea said.
One run in particular sticks out.
“There was one touchdown run against Kirkland Hiawatha. It was clogged up and all of the sudden you just see him spin out and he’s running for a touchdown and he scores,” Killelea said. “I think he broke five or six tackles, seven or eight tackles, I don’t know.”
But Killelea adds that Johnson is more than just a downhill runner.
“He’s very balanced. He can run you over you or beat you in a foot race,” Killelea said.
Having a certified work-horse up front has helped open up the Crusader offense as opponents stack the box to defend against the inside run game.
“They focus in on him and it opens up other aspects of the game. All the teams are scouting him and they forget about everything else,” Killelea said. “We can run the ball on a pitch outside — we’ve got two fast running backs in Tyler Verona and Cole Lindhout — or we can run a play-action pass and get them before they can realize what’s going on.”
Johnson credits the Crusaders’ blocking with his rushing success this season and said the secret to sustaining runs was maintaining a zen-like approach to running the ball.
“Pretty much just keep your mind clear. That’s all I try to do. I don’t try to think about anything except my assignment — to do what I’m told — and just go to the whistle,” he said.
While the standout running back tries to keep a clear mind on offense, his ferocity in the defensive backfield at safety has brought him to the forefront of opponent’s thoughts.
“I had one coach tell me that after watching the films his receivers were afraid to go into Curtiss’ area because they knew what was going to happen,” Jobst said. “He’s a good, solid size and he’s tough. As they say in football, he brings it. He doesn’t just knock you down — he really hits you.”
Johnson said he prefers to let opponents know of his presence early on defense. “Usually, I try to set the tone pretty early, so that it pretty much affects them the rest of the game,” Johnson said. “Usually with some big hits. I kind of set that early and make it clear.
“The goal is to not let teams score on us. Pretty much the goal is to not let them get a first down. Our line does a great job, but if they get through and the play comes to the secondary, I have to shut them down. We’ve done a pretty good job of that this year.”
After all, it’s his area.
“If anyone enters his area, they’re fixing to get a beat down,” Killelea said. The Crusaders, just two years removed from a winless season and on the heels of a 2-7 campaign last fall, have cruised to a 7-0 start in their debut season in the Northeastern Athletic Conference.
Johnson hopes that the first seven wins were just a warmup.
‘We’re hoping to play seven more games. So pretty much it’s the start of another season,” Johnson said. “That’s our goal, so we can’t take any time off. We’re just getting our feet wet.”
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.
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