Avery Johnson: College Football Freshman Breakout

Kansas State QB Avery Johnson is quickly climbing the college football ranks. With an outstanding bowl game performance as a true freshman and having the inside track at the Wildcats’ starting quarterback job, expectations are high in 2024.

Johnson is a former 4-star recruit out of Maize High School in the Wichita, Kansas suburbs. He was named the 2022 U.S. Army Bowl MVP and he was a top 10 quarterback in his recruiting class. Johnson received several D1 offers before the 2023 season including from Oregon and Washington, but he committed locally to play in Manhattan.

“He’s an incredible role model for our kids and just a very good leader,” said Johnson’s high school head coach Gary Guzman in a 2022 Signing Day Sports article. “He feels a responsibility to his team, and he just does his best to help the team any way he can.”

Johnson didn’t need to wait long to make an impact for the Wildcats in his first season. KSU senior starting QB Will Howard announced his decision to enter the transfer portal shortly after the team’s regular season finale. He has since committed to Ohio State. With Howard leaving the program, the door was opened for Avery Johnson to make his first collegiate start in the 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl.

Awaiting Johnson in Orlando, Florida were the 18th ranked NC State Wolfpack. Not only was Johnson up for the challenge of facing a nationally-ranked opponent in his first start, he earned Pop-Tarts Bowl MVP honors. Johnson was 14 of 31 passing for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He added 71 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown on just seven carries, showcasing his dual threat abilities.

On Johnson’s second throw of the game and facing a 4th and 5, he calmly read a zero blitz from the Wolfpack defense and showed perfect composure as he hit a wide open D.J. Giddens for a 37-yard touchdown. With under a minute remaining at the end of the first half, Johnson dazzled with a highlight reel 19-yard rushing touchdown. He evaded pressure as he dropped back to pass out of the gun, pump-faked in the open field and made several Wolfpack defenders miss on his way to the endzone.

Johnson continued to work throughout the game. He showed a natural ability to step up in the pocket and run the football for easy first downs. While he may have room for improvement in terms of his overall passing efficiency, he certainly proved to have plenty of arm talent. He saved his best for last, throwing a beautiful back shoulder fade for an 11-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give KSU a two-score lead and virtually seal the game. The bowl game MVP honors were just a formality for Johnson as the Wildcats celebrated their win.

There’s no doubt that the Wildcat faithful will have high expectations for Johnson as the team’s starting quarterback in 2024. Being a decorated recruit out of Kansas and showing immense potential in the team’s bowl game win is a recipe to generate some serious buzz.

The Big 12 will have a new look in 2024, with powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the SEC and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah all joining the conference. The race for the Big 12 championship appears to be wide open, and with the College Football Playoff expanding to a 12-team format with conference champions earning an automatic bid, the Wildcats are certainly in the mix to make noise in the postseason.

If Avery Johnson’s performance in his first collegiate start in the 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl is an indicator of future success, he could be in line for a big 2024 season. His talents were on full display in his only start as a true freshman. Johnson could be on his way to a fantastic college career.

Elijah Southwick is the lead sports content writer for Degen Magazine. His work has appeared in several news and sports publications.

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