Tyler Johnstone reflects on Oregon career leading up to Alamo Bowl
SAN ANTONIO —When the Ducks played Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl two years ago, starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone fell to the turf in the second quarter after awkwardly planting his right foot as he shoved an opposing pass rusher. Johnstone missed the remainder of the game and later returned to the sideline on crutches, wearing street clothes.
“He’s like a brother to me and in that moment I’ve never seen him cry the way he did,” former Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff told the Oregonian. “We knew it was something serious.”
The injury Johnstone suffered was a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee, which typically requires six to nine months of recovery time. With an ice pack on his knee, Johnstone told former offensive coordinator Scott Frost he would be back in time for the first game of the 2014 season.
“It was the biggest point of adversity for me since I’ve been here,” Johnstone said.
Johnstone never got that chance. With less than three weeks until the season-opener against South Dakota, Johnstone, who had started 26 consecutive games, re-tore his ACL. He missed the entirety of the 2014 season, and said once again he would be back for the start of the 2015 season.
This time, he was right. He survived a minor scare on the first day of camp, when he left the practice on a cart due to back spasms, but has remained healthy since. In his return to the football field for the 2015 season, Johnstone has started every game protecting the the quarterback’s blind side.
Now, in the final game of his five-year career at Oregon, Johnstone will return to the Alamodome, where his injury initially occurred.
“It’s kind of a fitting story — it’s where I first went down and where I’m coming back,” Johnstone said. “It being my last game, there’s a lot of mixed emotions and a lot of excitement.”
TCU presents an interesting match-up for Johnstone and the offensive line. He compared the Horned Frogs to Cal, in that they have an undersized, albeit fast and shifty, defense.
“They’re very mobile,” Johnstone said. “The defensive ends get up the field faster than a lot of the guys we’ve seen this year — a lot of slanting, a lot of twisting. We have to keep our eyes outside on the boundary blitzes.
“That’s really the biggest challenge. They’re athletic and they’re fast. I think we’re up to it.”
At 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, the redshirt senior is projected to be a third-to-fifth round NFL draft pick in 2016 by Walter Football. Despite his injuries, scouts and teammates alike remember him well for the way he punished defenders in protection of quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“You watch him in that Nicholls State game from two years ago and he’s blocking guys 20 yards up field and just dumping them,” Oregon tight end Johnny Mundt said of Johnstone. “He’s not just a good football player; he finishes plays. If he’s got his guy, he’s going to make an example out of that guy.”
The Ducks have led the Pac-12 in rushing each of the last 10 seasons and Johnstone has been a major part of their success, having been with the team since 2011. The Oregon culture, he said, is the one thing he’ll miss the most once the game is over.
“It’s definitely going to be a little bit melancholy out there,” Johnstone said. “It was a long road, playing at Oregon. The bond you create on this team — it’s something that you’ll never have again.”
Follow Kenny Jacoby on Twitter @KennyJacoby