November 13, 2007

Insider: Rojo's chance encounter with an old DVD

Even Ronald Johnson's girlfriend could see it.

While watching tape of the freshman speedster returning kicks in high school, she told him, "You look like you were trying to get to the outside a lot quicker," Johnson recalled.

As much time as he has spent in USC film sessions, it took his own review - in his dorm room, with his girlfriend - of a two-year-old DVD to understand what had changed.

In high school, his instinct to try and out-run everybody had worked. It usually does for the fastest guy on the field.

But as he studied this game from his junior season - watching himself return a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown - Johnson recognized, for the first time, that his blockers at Muskegon (Mich.) High had opened seams for him.

"I was like, 'Whoa, there's a lane right there,'" said Johnson, who had declined to run through it.

That's when everything clicked: He can't outrun everyone anymore, so it's time to be patient and survey the field.

Johnson took over the kickoff return duties Oct. 29, at Washington, with C.J. Gable on the way to groin surgery and a medical redshirt. As Gable had told him, "There's a lane that opens up, so you've got to watch it and hit it as fast as you can, because your speed will kill everyone."

Several weeks later, and a few days after watching the old DVD, Johnson made the most of his only kickoff return against Oregon State, taking it 41 yards to USC's 46-yard line, to set up the Trojans' first touchdown in a 24-3 victory.

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