Sports Journalism Blog

By Justin Haberstroh | @JustinHaberstr1

Sports Capital Journalism Program

LOS ANGELES – The new head coach of the TCU Horned Frogs, Sonny Dykes, had a simple goal last year: Keep his four best players. Of the four that Dykes wanted to keep, Quentin Johnston was the one who stayed.

Johnston, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver, is the key to TCU’s dynamic offense and one of the best deep-ball receivers in the country. Against ranked opponents, he has had 43 catches for 879 yards with five touchdowns. Johnston’s career average of 19.1 yards per catch ranks second in the Football Bowl Subdivision, 0.4 yards behind Marvin Mims of Oklahoma. In the Big 12 championship game against Kansas State and the College Football Playoff semifinal victory over Michigan, Johnston has had 10 catches for 302 yards, a 30.2-yard average, including a 76-yard touchdown against the Wolverines.

In the unprecedented era of the transfer portal, the unexpected rise of the Horned Frogs could be traced to Johnston’s renewed commitment to his coach and teammates.

“When I came into the job, externally I was hearing, okay, these are four players that are really important to the program that you’ve got to get to stay here,” Dykes said two days before his Horned Frogs will meet Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship. “And three of the four left … We had three of the four that transferred out.”

Johnston said he never seriously considered transferring after Gary Patterson, the previous coach, left the program. Johnston knew, even before Dykes reached out, that he wanted to stay at TCU.

“As far as transferring, I guess you could say that I thought about it, but it was really nothing that stuck in my mind,” Johnston said. “I’m going to go ahead and trust coach Dykes.”

Dykes interpreted that outlook as essential validation for a program in transition. He knew that with Johnston at the forefront of the offense, along with quarterback Max Duggan, the Horned Frogs could go places.

“I think it was important not only for his talent, but I think it was also an endorsement from him … that everybody was looking for somebody to say, ‘Look, I’m jumping on the train,’” Dykes remembered. “And Quentin did that for us. And I think it gave our staff some credibility because when you take over in today’s era of football, there’s chaos.”

With Johnston’s support, it was time to get to work building an offense. TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley knew that Johnston was going to be able to produce at a high level.

“I thought the sky was the limit,” Riley said. “To have an elite athlete-receiver like him, someone who is truly special with the ball in his hands, with his frame and his length and his feet, was very, very rare. With the size that he has and the vertical threat that he is, it certainly opened up a lot of different things for the rest of our offense and for a lot of our other players. He’s been a huge factor. When we first got to TCU, it was like, man, it’s going to be pretty fun to have a guy like him.”

Johnston’s outlook has kept things that way. As speculation has grown about the possibility of a spot in the first round of the National Football League draft, offensive tackles Garrett Hayes and Noah Bolticoff see a humble teammate every day in the locker room and at practice.

“He is a really good dude and a great player,” Hayes said. “A lot of players, when they are getting ready for the league, they start to become selfish and Quentin, every day, no matter who you are, will always dap you up and tell you what’s up and have a conversation with you.”

“He (Johnston) is not too good to be around anyone,” Bolticoff said.

Running back Kendre Miller and Johnston have been friends since they came into the TCU program together as freshmen. Together they have produced 23 touchdowns for the Horned Frogs this season. Miller, whose availability on Monday is uncertain because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, glowed when asked about Johnston.

“You know, me and him are best friends,” Miller said. “And I feel like that friendship carries onto the field because we kind of talk before every game and he always tells me that it’s going to start with us and end with us. I feel like that’s why we always have the games we have, it’s that kind of relationship. I got him and he’s got me.”

Miller remembered their pregame talk before the 17-10 victory over Texas at Austin, the biggest game to that point in an historic season, with 100,000 people in the stands. Miller heard Johnston say the same thing:

“It starts with us,” Miller remembered. “It ends with us.”