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Sizing Up Robert Johnson

By Kristi Roberts

It is no secret that Robert Johnson, a hometown athlete and senior from Lubbock Estacado, has his work cut out for him on the football field.

The 5-11, 188-pound strongside linebacker is one of America's smallest collegiate players at that position. However, don't let his size fool you because his statistics speak for themselves.

In three seasons at Tech, Johnson compiled a total of 189 tackles for the Red Raiders; 38 in 1993, 86 in 1994, and 65 in 1995. Johnson has tallied a team-high 30 tackles this year, including 11 in the first two games against Kansas State and Oklahoma State. He has been able to accumulate numbers like these and manage the adversity that he is faced due to his excellent work ethic and his determination.

"I often hear people tell me that I'm not big enough for my position," Johnson said. "Because of this, I work harder. I always try to give 100 percent. I try to put everything I have and then some into every practice and game situation."

Robert Johnson literally grew up playing the sport of football. He started out in pee wee league and played throughout junior high and high school.

"I have always loved football," he said. "It meant as much for me back then as it does now."

After a successful high school career, he was faced with the decision of where to continue playing football. Despite the fact that some of his biggest fans encouraged him to go to other schools, Johnson made the decision to attend Texas Tech.

"I just wanted to play football," he said. "I didn't really care where. I didn't have one particular school in mind. However, because I'm from Lubbock, my family was pleased with my decision to go to Tech."

Johnson's considers his role as one of the 1996 team captains to be a major accomplishment for him. He was selected a team captain by his teammates prior to the season, along with Casey Jones, Dane Johnson, Anthony Armour, Zebbie Lethridge, and Byron Hanspard. However, a leadership position is nothing new. He had a similar role in high school; serving as student body president of Estacado High School both his junior and senior years.

"I'm not a very vocal person," Johnson said. "I tend to lead by example. For this reason, having the respect of my teammates is important to me. Being one of this year's team captains is the greatest honor that I have received while at Tech; especially since I was selected by fellow team members."

Johnson's ability to lead by example is definitely something the average spectator will notice. You can see his intense emotions on the field. His excitement for the game is contagious. Often, the entire team is able to feed off of his energy level.

With the loss of key players, the 1996 football team is obviously much different than last year's team that finished 9-3 and won the Copper Bowl. Zach Thomas, Shawn Banks, and Marcus Coleman are gone, therefore the 1996 Red Raiders have had to "step up" to fill those positions. According to Johnson, this is one of the biggest factors towards the success of this team.

"The competition I was faced with by my teammates last season prepared me for this year's challenges. I am a better player now because of it. I think the greatest difference this year is that we don't have just one superstar on the field. We have a lot of talented athletes who get the job done. When we play, we play as a team. Each game is a true team effort. Everyone has the chance to be in the spotlight."

Johnson expects the Red Raiders to do well this season. He feels that a successful 1996 season would be marked by a fourth trip to a bowl game. He has been part of Texas Tech Red Raider teams that have made three consecutive bowl appearances: John Hancock Bowl in 1993, Mobil Cotton Bowl in 1994, and Weiser Lock Copper Bowl in 1995. "Post-season play is the best," Johnson said. "There is nothing else better!"

Aside from playing in the three bowl games, Johnson said that last year's 14-7 victory over longtime Southwest Conference rival Texas A&M was a major highlight of his career. He felt it was "sweet revenge" to be able to defeat A&M at Jones Stadium in front of 51,205 fans. Personally, he does not believe he has had a truly great game at Tech. However, he considers the interception last year at New Mexico as definitely his best defensive play.

Football brought Robert Johnson to Texas Tech, but life does not begin and end on the gridiron. He is on target to graduate in May with bachelor's degree in recreation and leisure Services.

"I truly love the game, but my education is very important to me," he said. "I would love to play professional football in the National Football League, but I realize that football is not forever. If the NFL doesn't work out, then I am interested in a career in teaching high school English."

It is no doubt that the success of this year's Red Raiders will largely depend upon the talents of Robert Johnson as well as other outstanding individuals on the team. It is due to the efforts of such leaders that a team is able to accomplish all that it can. With assets like these, any team achievement is possible, and hopefully, the victories will stack up this season. If so, Johnson and Texas Tech will be on its way to yet another bowl appearance, as well as having made a major impact upon the inaugural season of the Big 12 Conference.

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