Catching Up With: Eddie Johnson

Steve Virgen

Who would have thought a Newport Beach boy would be having fun in

Idaho of all places?

Eddie Johnson did.

The former Newport Harbor High standout and star punter for Orange

Coast College is not only having fun, he is making Idaho State coaches

look like geniuses for recruiting him in the offseason.

Johnson was the bright spot for the Division I-AA Bengals, who

finished 3-7 overall and 1-6 in the Big Sky Conference. He earned

All-American status after leading the nation in punt average, 46.3 yards

per punt, and his hang time was a result of Idaho State leading the

nation in net punt average (which subtracts return yardage) of 44.3 yards

per punt.

Johnson, who now holds Idaho State's single season punting average

record, also pinned opponents inside the 20-yard-line 10 times. He passed

Case deBruijn's 45.9 average set in 1981.

"I'm totally satisfied," said Johnson, who also earned first-team Big

Sky Conference laurels. "You know, not too many people from Newport could

handle (Idaho). Obviously, there is no beach and no ocean. I was all

about the boardwalk, anyway. I didn't go in the water too much. It's

really slow and quiet and I have adapted.

"Being there feels that everything happens for a reason," he

continued. "I couldn't picture myself anywhere else."

Johnson, who came back to Newport Beach during the semester break,

wasn't always sure about making Idaho State his home. After a successful

season at OCC, where he earned first-team All-Mission Conference honors,

he made highlight tapes and tried to sell himself, so to speak, to

four-year universities.

He narrowed his feedback of six schools to three, including Portland

State and Arkansas State. He put Idaho State at the bottom because he

never thought that would be the school for him.

However, the Bengals' Larry Lewis was the only coach, who came to

visit Johnson. After the meeting and after Johnson took a trip to Idaho

State, he knew he wanted to become a Bengal.

"When I went (to visit Idaho State) I had a really good time," said

Johnson, who broke a light fixture in the school's domed stadium with one

of his punts during a practice this fall. "It wasn't about going to a

party or anything like that. I just went and hung out with the kicker. I

had a good feeling in my gut. They have a dome there. It felt like a

right fit."

Johnson was also impressed with Idaho State's assistant coach, Jeff

Banks, who coaches the kickers. He, too, was a punter who played for

Washington State. Johnson said Banks called him regularly during the

recruiting process.

After Johnson established himself as the best punter in the nation,

ideas and comments have been made of changing his playing days to Sundays

after his senior year next season.

"(The NFL) is definitely there in my mind," Johnson said. "It's

impossible to avoid, but I don't want to keep it in my mind. I want to

focus on maximizing on what I have, doing my best and living in the now."

While living for the day, Johnson has been thriving in the college

football experience. He said the Bengals' trip to Sacramento State made

him feel that he had truly arrived as a football player.

"We don't have the huge scene like the Division I schools have,"

Johnson said. "But just to fly to the game, and you have the school

jumpsuit on, you have that feel. It just really felt big-time."

At Idaho State, Johnson has been totally enjoying himself. Aside from

hitting the books (his major is health) and solidifying relationships

with teammates, Johnson finds time to snowboard and he's also planning to

do some fishing. The time away from Idaho has allowed Johnson to focus on

next season while in Newport, where he has had to readapt.

"Coming back home was weird," Johnson said. "I was driving 55 (miles

per hour) on the freeway like I'm used to from Idaho and the people here

were upset. There are so many people here. It's a lot less stressful in

Idaho."

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