Zach Johnson wants to prove the doubters wrong. It has been his motivation for more than a year.
Injuries, ranging from knee and hamstring issues to missing an entire season because of a blood clot, plagued Johnson’s illustrious six-year football career at Eastern Washington University — one that included a Football Championship Series national title in 2010 and a semifinal appearance this past season.
The 2007 Tumwater High School graduate has missed 24 college games due to injury, but he says he’s now 100 percent healthy and looking to catch the attention of NFL teams.
“I’m hoping to open some eyes,” the 6-foot-1, 218-pound Johnson said.
Last weekend, Johnson was one of 275 NFL hopefuls who were at the league’s regional combine in Renton. He performed well, including running a 4.64-second 40-yard-dash and registering a 39.5-inch vertical leap.
He has been training to make the transition from outside linebacker to safety. He hopes to be one of 200 players invited to the super regional combine April 7 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where representatives from all 32 NFL teams will be in attendance.
“It felt really good,” Johnson said of Saturday’s combine performance. “I’m really happy with it.”
Because of offseason shoulder surgery in January to repair a torn labrum, Johnson was measured only for height and weight at EWU’s pro day on March 6 in Cheney. In the past few months, Johnson has worked extensively with Eastern strength and conditioning coach Nate Brookreson, a North Thurston graduate.
Johnson, 23, started every game he played at EWU — 39 — and ranks seventh in career tackles (324). This season, despite missing five games due to a hamstring injury, he was a second-team all-Big Sky Conference honoree with 64 tackles. In the Eagles’ 45-42 FCS semifinal loss to Sam Houston State, Johnson had a team-best 12 tackles.
In 2006 as a senior at Tumwater, Johnson set a single-season rushing record with 1,918 yards and led the T-Birds to the Class 2A state semifinals.
Playing professional football has been a goal for Johnson and his twin brother, Matt, who was a fourth-round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys last April as a safety. Zach Johnson said he knows it’s a long shot to be drafted, and he hopes for one team to give him a chance now that he’s healthy. Last April, many scouts and websites didn’t project Matt Johnson to be drafted, but he was the 135th player taken overall in the draft.
“I knew if I stayed healthy,” Zach Johnson said, “I’d have a shot to open some eyes.”
SAINTS EARN WEEKLY HONORS
Saint Martin’s softball team — as well as pitcher Taylor Bakos — earned weekly honors from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. The Saints were named team of the week, and Bakos was honored as pitcher of the week.
The Saints (17-9 overall, 8-4 GNAC) swept first-place Simon Fraser over the weekend to pull within a half-game of the Clan at the midway point of the conference season.
Bakos, a senior from Kennewick, went 2-0 last week with a 0.58 ERA with victories over Western Washington and Simon Fraser. She threw her first shutout of the season Saturday against the Vikings, allowing three hits over five innings, then scattered four hits and gave up one earned run with five strikeouts against the Clan.
BLACK HILLS’ TURNER PART OF ELITE 8
The Western Washington men’s basketball team, which includes 2010 Black Hills graduate Anye Turner, plays Florida Southern in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight at 3 p.m. Thursday at Freedom Hall at the University of Louisville. The sophomore forward is averaging 3.8 points per game and has 39 blocked shots in 31 games.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick