BY Jim Fenton
EASTON — He waited patiently on the sideline for three seasons, playing a limited role for the Stonehill College football team. Running back Jamal Johnson of Brockton had 104 carries for 386 yards in 20 games while situated behind Eddie Vachon, Jermetrius Troy and Justin Willis on the depth chart along the way.
"It was frustrating, but you're behind older guys, guys who have been in the program longer than you,'' said the Brockton High School graduate. "You learn from them, accept your role and just keep working hard.''
This season, however, Johnson finally got his chance to be on the field on a regular basis as a senior for the Skyhawks.
Willis suffered a season-ending injury during training camp in August, and the starting job went to Johnson.
He took full advantage, gaining 170 yards against Saint Anselm College, 117 against Assumption College and 151 yards against Bentley University in consecutive weeks during September.
Johnson was among the Northeast-10 Conference leaders, averaging 127.8 yards through the first four games, including a 73-yard effort against nationally ranked Bloomsburg.
Then, during a win at Southern Connecticut State on Oct. 12, Johnson suffered a sprained ankle that would force him to miss the next two games against New Haven and LIU Post.
He returned on Nov. 2 and carried the ball five times against Pace University, only to injure his collarbone, forcing Johnson to sit out last week's season finale at Merrimack College.
Johnson returned to practice Tuesday and is planning to suit up and be available for the NE-10 championship game at American International College on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The back-to-back injuries, which have limited him to just 12 carries and 37 yards since early October, have put Johnson back on the sideline just when he started to get going.
"It was very frustrating,'' said Johnson, who is averaging 82.1 yards per game this season. "You want to be out there. But at the same time, (sophomore) Colin Markus (740 yards) has been stepping up and been putting the team on his back.
"It's been real tough. But what I learned this year is it's not about me. It's about the team. Whatever I can bring to the table, whether it's moral support, talking to Colin after plays, sort of the role Justin took after he got hurt, that's what I'll do.
"If that's what it's going to make the team better, then just accept the role.''
Johnson, who played on the Brockton High team that lost to BC High in the 2008 Super Bowl in Foxboro, showed he was capable of being the lead back before the two injuries.
He helped give the Skyhawks a dual threat on offense, opening things up for quarterback Logan Meyer and his receivers.
"It wasn't a surprise to me, because when you put in the work, you see the results,'' said Johnson. "I knew what I was capable of doing. It was just going out there and doing it.
"My mind-set every year was this was my year to step up and contribute to the team. This year, it was my senior year, my last time playing football, pretty much. It has been nice – and it will be nice on Saturday.''
With a possible trip to the NCAA Div. 2 tournament on the line against AIC, Johnson is going to be ready to contribute any way he can.
"Of course, you want to play in the big game on Saturday, but it's all about accepting the role,'' said Johnson. "Even if I do suit up and I don't play that much, I'm still going to be part of this year.''
Said coach Robert Talley: "When he was healthy and he was able to play, he really contributed to the success of this program. When it's all said and done he'll be able to take that away and look back and say, 'Hey, you know what? When I was able to, I was able to help our football team.'''