Twin brother Matt Johnson will now wear No. 10 in honor of Zach
A blood clot that developed following knee surgery last summer has forced returning starter Zach Johnson to miss the entire 2009 season, and his twin brother Matt Johnson will wear Zach's No. 10 jersey in honor of his fallen teammate, Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin has announced.
The blood clot developed before the start of preseason practices in August, and although he has been on blood thinners ever since, it didn't dissipate enough to allow the middle linebacker to practice or play during the first four games of the 2009 season for the 17th-ranked Eagles. A mid-October return date was originally expected for the preseason All-Big Sky Conference selection, but doctors and EWU athletic trainers determined this week that for precautionary reasons he should miss the entire season.
"They feel like because it's still there it's still too dangerous to allow him to practice or play," said Baldwin, indicating that six months recovery may be needed, which would push his return into December. "A blood clot is something you don't want to mess with."
"He's pretty bummed about it," Baldwin said. "The hard part is that Zach feels good and ready to play. It's one thing when you have a physical injury that doesn't allow you to play, but in this case he doesn't feel like there is anything wrong."
The 2006 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School were both starters for the Eagles last season as redshirt freshmen. Matt has started all four games at strong safety during EWU's 3-1 start to this season, and has 22 tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass broken up. He also had an interception he returned 33 yards for a touchdown in EWU's 56-30 win at Sacramento State last Saturday (Sept. 26).
Matt has been wearing No. 5 this season, but will move to No. 10 starting this Saturday (Oct. 3) when EWU plays at Idaho State. Last season, Matt wore No. 40 and Zach wore No. 41 before getting the jersey numbers they wanted as sophomores.
"Obviously they are close and care about each other, and wearing Zach's jersey was something Matt felt strongly about doing," explained Baldwin, who did not have Zach on the travel squad for last week's game in Sacramento. "They are close, and they've never not been together for a football game until the Sac State game. Even when one of them wasn't playing in a game, they have always been there together. That bond is reflected by Matt wanting to honor his brother and teammate in this way."
More on the Johnson Twins . . .
Since the first game of their careers against Texas Tech in August 2008, the twin brothers produced some incredible defensive numbers as redshirt freshmen.
They combined for 22 tackles in EWU's 28-13 win over Northern Arizona on Nov. 15 and 27 a week earlier in a 31-16 victory over Northern Colorado. Versus NAU, Zach had 12 stops and Matt had nine, with each breaking up a pass. Versus UNC, Zach had 15 tackles and a key interception in the third quarter while Matt finished with 12 tackles.
"There was no question Zach had a huge pick against Northern Colorado," said Baldwin at the time. "He did a great job and is a great player. Both of the Johnson twins are great players. At different times they were a little banged up because they played a lot of snaps, but those guys kept coming to play."
Both had impressive collegiate debuts in Eastern's 49-24 loss at Texas Tech on Aug. 30. With Matt starting at strong safety and Zach at strong-side inside linebacker, the Johnson brothers finished with a combined 18 tackles, including eight tackles and three passes broken up by Zach. Matt had a team-high 10 tackles and a game-changing interception in the second quarter. The Eagles trailed 21-0 when Matt intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards to the TTU 7-yard line. Two plays later, Alexis Alexander scored from one yard out to give EWU its first score.
"They are great players and have bought right in," said Baldwin after the Texas Tech game. "They're coachable, they can run, they can tackle -- they have all the tools to be great defensive players in this league. They left it on the field and went hard. There was no question that a lot of young players stepped up against Texas Tech."
They finished the season combining for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach, whose 96 tackles ranks 20th in school history, was third in the Big Sky (8.7 per game) and 47th nationally. Matt had 83 total tackles and was eighth in the league (7.6). Zach also had seven passes broken up and ranked eighth in the league in tackles for loss (0.95 per game). Matt had four interceptions to rank 47th in FCS and sixth in the league (0.36 per game).