BOISE, Idaho — Ian Johnson helped Boise State win its first BCS game. He married the captain of the cheerleading squad. He rubbed elbows with Hollywood stars. He was mentioned as a contender in the annual Heisman Trophy derby.
And that was just in the first eight months of this year.
Can Johnson’s world get any better?
Johnson, the junior tailback who led the nation in scoring last season and helped the Broncos to a 13-0 record, delivers his answer with a straight face and earnest tone.
“You just build on what you have,” said Johnson, who scored 25 TDs last season. “You build on 13-0. You let what’s happened in the past be what it was. Now it’s all about doing something new.”
For Johnson, there will be plenty of new when the Broncos take the field in their Aug. 30 opener against Weber State.
Veteran quarterback Jared Zabransky is gone, leaving senior Tyler Tharp and junior Bush Hamden to battle for the job. The team’s top three receivers and tight end from last year must also be replaced.
For opposing defenses, that likely means a steady dose of No. 41 — at least early in the season.
Despite his dazzling statistics and Boise State’s string of five straight WAC titles, Johnson and his teammates struggled to prove they deserved the respect granted to college football powerhouses.
That changed with the Broncos’ 43-42 win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day. The winning points came in overtime after Boise State scored a TD and elected to go for the win with a 2-point conversion.
Reaching deep into the playbook, Boise ran an old-fashioned Statue of Liberty. Johnson got the ball off the fake pass and rushed into the end zone untouched. He then raced over to his girlfriend, Crissy Popadics, got down on one knee and proposed in front of television cameras, and the world.
Life hasn’t been the same since.
The proposal ran nonstop on television and the Internet. The couple appeared on national morning news shows. Johnson accepted the award for best play at the ESPY’s show in Hollywood in June, and he and Popadics were a hot commodity at post-show parties.
Johnson even made national headlines after being told by the NCAA to quit selling beanies he knitted — a skill he learned as a child from his mother — and was peddling for $15 to teammates, friends and fans.
The couple’s wedding this summer was huge news in Boise, including a three-day newspaper series on Popadics’ wedding plans and dress shopping. But the June 28 wedding in the city also attracted police protection after the couple received threatening phone calls and racist-tinged letters.
Johnson, who is black, and Popadics, who is white, responded in stride, kicking off the ceremony with a prayer calling for an end to prejudice.
“We’re both down-to-earth,” Johnson said. “We talk about all that has happened in the last few months. But we’re not going to let it affect what we do on a daily basis.”
Now, Johnson is back on the field for an opportunity to bolster an already impressive resume.
In 12 games last season, he carried the ball 277 times for 1,713 yards, both school records. His 152 points was tops in the country. He finished eighth in the Heisman balloting.
Although expectations were high after Johnson rushed for more than 600 yards as a freshman, few Broncos envisioned such production from a runner virtually ignored by recruiters coming out of Damien High School in La Verne, Calif.
Though delighted with the media attention Johnson generates, the athletic department has no plans to launch a marketing blitz promoting his Heisman credentials — yet.