The Cal Poly football team’s top receiver will not be taking snaps when the Mustangs open spring practice today.
Senior Dominique Johnson, by far the most productive Cal Poly pass-catcher last season, will be working mainly on weight training and conditioning while he continues recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery.
The rest of his teammates kick things off in half pads at the upper fields of the Cal Poly Sports Complex at 1 p.m.
A shoulder dislocation caused Johnson to essentially miss two midseason games, but he didn’t find out the injury was going to result in an operation until December.
In one way, he was fortunate it did. Plus, Cal Poly now gets the opportunity to find out if it can develop any other receiving threats.
The former UCLA transfer finished the season with 43 catches for 741 yards. No other Mustangs receiver had more than 19 receptions, and Johnson’s six touchdown receptions were twice as many as any of his teammates.
But after hurting his shoulder in the first quarter of Cal Poly’s fourth game of the season and missing all of the following week’s 35-23 loss at Montana, Johnson was limited by soreness.
He came back to put up some big numbers, including a 273-yard, program record-tying five-touchdown performance against South Dakota in November, but managing the pain was a lingering issue.
“It was one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do just because of the simple fact that some games, I allowed my pride and my love for football to put me on the field when maybe I shouldn’t have been out there,” Johnson said.
“I felt the sharpest pain maybe Sundays after games, and throughout the week it would go down a little bit. And them come back on game day, get hit or fall on it again, and it would flare up on me.”
When Johnson had the December surgery, he said his surgeon also found a previously unknown labrum tear and was able to repair that as well.
The alternative to surgery would have been rest and recovery, but the labrum tear would have gone undetected and potentially could have made the joint more susceptible to future dislocations.
Johnson took it as a blessing in disguise and now looks to be 100 percent by June.
He only started running last week and sprinting within the past few days, and won’t be running the 40-yard dash when professional scouts visit camp to put together scouting reports for the upcoming season.
“I’m a little disappointed about it, but I know it’s for the better,” Johnson said. “I’m not ready to run. I can run a 40 right now, but I know its not going to be impressive because I haven’t run like that since the season.”
Improving his speed will be the big key to determining whether Johnson can follow former Cal Poly receiver Ramses Barden into the pro ranks. Barden, entering his second year with the New York Giants, raised his stock when he ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash during workouts leading up to the 2009 draft.
At 6-foot-3, Johnson is three inches shorter than Barden but fits a similar role as a big receiver.
“We’d like to see him work on his flat-out speed and see him work on the blocking aspect of the game,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said. “Those are things he needs to improve upon.
“He also needs to be able to, if he can’t outrun those guys, be more physical than they are with his size in those situations. And when you go play Fresno State, that’s when you have to show how dominant you can be. And that’s where we’re hoping he can show he can separate from those types of people, too.”
What Walsh will be looking for leading up to the spring game April 24 is a complementary receiver to play alongside Johnson. Senior Eric Gardley is a returning starter and had 203 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches last season.
Junior Jarred Houston, who had six catches for 24 yards and a touchdown, was moved to slotback, leaving Gardley as the only other returning receiver aside from Johnson with a collegiate catch.
Gardley will be getting pushed by Cougar Williams, a potential kick returner, and converted defensive back Kellen Moriarty.
Williams, a 5-9 redshirt freshman from Hanford, had 950 receiving yards and 12 touchdown his senior year of high school.
Moriarty, a 6-foot, 190-pound fifth-year senior, was a first-team All-Channel League quarterback at Dos Pueblos High but has not played offense since 2004.
“Kellen Moriarty had an awesome offseason,” Walsh said.
“It’s a completely different attitude, a completely different player because I think he wants to play on the offensive side of the ball. It’s been a pleasure to see because he’s explosive. He’s worked hard in the weight room. We expect him to give us something on that side of the ball.”