NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt’s Cam Johnson admits he wasn’t quite prepared in 2018 for the jump from high school ball to college competition.
“I got here, and I’m not going to say I didn’t work hard in high school, but it was definitely harder to work hard in high school,” he said after practice Wednesday. “I remember the first two weeks of camp Coach (Aaron) Moorehead told me that if I kept playing the way I was playing in practice, I’d never play (on game day).
“And I think after that it sort of woke me up a little bit and I started to practice harder.”
Johnson came to Vanderbilt as a highly-touted recruit intent on making an impact as a true freshman. But that aforementioned wake-up call and an early-season injury severely slowed down his trajectory for contribution.
The 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt freshman from Brentwood Academy made just four receptions for 45 yards last season.
“Once I got injured I realized even more how much I loved the game and how much it meant it me,” Johnson said. “So I think every day I just come out here with that kind of mindset that I know how much it means to me so I’m going to give my ultimate every day. I think that can take me as high as I want to go.”
Fast forward to the first weekend of October in 2019 and Johnson has become Vanderbilt’s secondary receiving target behind senior star Kalija Lipscomb. Johnson is second on the team in receptions (13) and receiving yards (163) and last week had the best game of his young career with six catches for 64 yards.
Johnson’s first touchdown of his young career came Sept. 7 at Purdue when he snatched a wide receiver screen pass on the left side of the field and slid into the end zone from 10 yards out.
From the 615 to the Purdue end zone.
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) September 7, 2019
“(Johnson) has been doing a very good job of putting up numbers,” Lipscomb said of his young teammate. “You see (Johnson), his numbers are jumping and his plays are going up because of the production he’s putting in during the week. He keeps his head down and he’s been working on his craft. You can see it in his routes, you can see it after he catches the ball.
“And you know he’s not a super-loud guy, but you see that come out when he celebrates with his teammates.”
Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2 SEC) heads to Ole Miss (2-3, 1-1 SEC) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday looking to keep its momentum going in the passing attack with Johnson right in the middle of the game plan. The matchup marks the fifth straight start for quarterback Riley Neal and second consecutive week the team’s offensive line will be 100 percent healthy.
It’s those factors that are the most-important for Johnson.
“Getting more comfortable with (Neal) has been the biggest key just to gain his trust,” he said. “The O-line starting to pick it up – they’re doing a great job making sure that they’re giving (Neal) time. Then we’re running the ball well – you’re seeing what (running back) Ke’Shawn (Vaughn) is doing. You got so many weapons that I think it’s just hard for them to key on one guy and it’s helping everyone out.”