The year 2018 has seen two major losses of former all-time great players for Marshall Thundering Herd football, but Tuesday’s loss has left the Marshall program and fanbase in complete shock.
Former Herd star running back Devon Johnson passed away on Tuesday at the age of 25 just months after the losses of former Marshall quarterbacks Reggie Oliver and Michael Payton. Johnson’s passing has shaken the Marshall program and fanbase just days before the 48th anniversary of the November 14, 1970 plane crash.
Johnson was one of the most beloved Marshall football players of all-time during his time with the program from 2012-2015. He would prove to become a versatile player for the Herd during his career that led from becoming a linebacker to one of the best running backs in college football.
Johnson’s 2012 season saw limited playing time in a variety of different roles, but he managed to nab three receptions for 21 yards and one touchdown during a season in which the coaching staff was still trying to figure out what they had with him. That led to a more stable 2013 season as a tight end and special teams ace.
He was used as a fullback at times during the 2013 season as well, but he made an impact as a tight end by racking up 12 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns alongside fellow tight end standout Gator Hoskins. Johnson also rushed for three touchdowns in 2013, ultimately leading to a career breakthrough in 2014.
The coaches decided to make Johnson the starting running back heading into the 2014 season, and it became a move that would change the complexion of Marshall football forever. Not only did Johnson thrive as the Herd’s starting running back, but he broke records in the process.
Johnson was the sixth leading rusher in the FBS in 2014 with 206 carries for 1,767 yards and 17 touchdowns with an 8.6 yards-per-carry average. He earned first-team all-conference honors in 2014 and set the single-game Marshall rushing record with a 24-carry, 272-yard performance with four touchdowns against FAU on Oct. 25.
His senior season in 2015 was limited due to injury, but he still managed to rush for 593 yards on 94 carries with five touchdowns and a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. For his entire Marshall career, Johnson finished with 2,373 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. Those 2,373 career rushing yards are good for 10th best in program history.
He also finished with 27 career receptions for 423 yards and six touchdowns. Throughout his career from 2012-2015, Johnson helped the Marshall football program amass an overall record of 38-15 with two C-USA East Division Championships, one C-USA Championship, three bowl wins, and one final top 25 national ranking.
The Carolina Panthers signed Johnson to a free agent deal following his graduation from Marshall where injuries ultimately cost him a shot at making the team. There can’t be enough focus put on how much he meant to the Marshall football program and how big of an impact he left.
Johnson’s hard-nosed, physical, and powerhouse running style earned him the nickname “Rockhead” and it captivated the Marshall fanbase while becoming one of the most beloved players in program history. He was still active with Marshall football after graduation and was considered a kind-hearted person that never found a picture with a fan he didn’t want to take or an autograph he didn’t want to sign.
This has been an emotional year for Marshall with the losses of Oliver, Payton, and now Johnson, but Marshall is more than a football team, it’s a family. Johnson and the fellow Herd legends that have passed before him will never be forgotten in the hearts of everyone in the Herd family.