Avery Johnson is easy to locate on the Kansas State campus.
There aren’t many other long-haired freshmen who graduate from class to class with the physique of a gun-toting quarterback. Even though he has a doppelganger located somewhere in his new campus, you can easily tell them apart because Johnson is the one carrying a bag full of protein bars and also probably gorging himself like Brad Pitt’s character in the movie “Ocean’s 11.”
Now that Johnson has signed up a semester early to kick off his college football career after a sensational four years at Maize High School, he’s looking to pack on the crowd. That means eating 5,000 calories a day.
“Trying to keep up with my diet has been my toughest challenge so far,” Johnson said. “My backpack is full of snacks. I wouldn’t want to sit next to me in class, because that’s literally all I do. I’m munching on my back, eating all kinds of stuff and trying to crack open the next thing.
When Johnson arrived in K-State for the start of the spring semester, he weighed 175 pounds. That was enough for him to win tons of games in high school and become one of Sunflower State’s most decorated rookies, but he’ll need more muscle to survive as a quarterback in the Big 12.
His goal is to gain 20 pounds before the games start in the fall.
“I’m trying to put on 15 to 20 pounds before that time,” Johnson said, “so my body is developed and I can take a hit from a linebacker.”
Adding muscle is an important first step for Johnson as he transitions into Chris Klieman’s offense. The Wildcats aren’t afraid to field their quarterbacks as runners and will likely look to use Johnson as a ball handler whenever he’s ready to play at this level due to his speed. He’s going to need all the extra dimensions he can maintain.
Starting quarterback Will Howard, for example, is 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. Trying to match that kind of frame wasn’t easy for Johnson.
“My biggest adversity so far is that ever since I got here it’s been very difficult to eat as much as I wanted,” Johnson said. “You have to eat 5,000 calories just to gain weight and I’ve never done that before. We have a very good nutritionist. He has helped me and set me up with the plan I need. But when you get to college they tell you what you have to do and then you have to do it yourself. They won’t hold your hand.
Outside of his new dietary regimen, things went well for Johnson during his first few weeks on campus. He shares a room with fellow freshman Wesley Fair, who is a longtime friend of Wichita. The team welcomed him with open arms. He also likes to train with teammates and participate in training led by the captain.
But it has to do with another rather large adjustment. After starring in Maize all those years, he now he’s the short man on K-State’s depth chart totem pole. Howard returned as the team’s undisputed starter. So are backups Jake Rubley and Adryan Lara.
He may be the quarterback of the future, but the odds of Johnson playing next season look low.
“It just means I have to work harder,” Johnson said. “I have to find out what it takes to be successful at this next level. I’ll talk to coaches, I’ll talk to players and stuff like that. I will keep my confidence and stay motivated, because I know my time will come.”
There is a chance that Johnson will become a freshman. He’s not against that, but he’ll bring a more aggressive mentality into the season.
“I’m going to come get ready like I have to play, obviously,” Johnson said. “But I don’t hope anything bad happens to Will. The one-play mentality is something I will have. If Will goes in there and does the same thing he did last year and dominates, I’ll be happy for him. I feel he and Adrian Martinez had a great relationship last year so I only want the best for the team. I want to see the team win. This is just the kind of person I’ve always been.
Johnson is eager to help the Wildcats build on what they accomplished last season, even if it means eating 5,000 calories a day.
His only goal for his K-State career at the moment: “Lots of wins.”
“I have personal goals, but to be honest, team goals mean more to me than any personal goal,” Johnson said, “whether it’s winning the Big 12 or playing for a national championship. I just like playing football and I like winning football matches.”