Linebacker Zach Johnson to Miss Rest of the Season with Recurring Knee Injury

Baldwin is hopeful the senior co-captain can be granted a sixth year by the NCAA after having already lost one season because of a blood clot after knee surgery

For the second time in three seasons, Eastern Washington University linebacker Zach Johnson will have a season cut short because of the same knee injury, Eastern head football coach Beau Baldwin announced on Tuesday (Sept. 27).

The senior co-captain has been playing this season with a chronic tear in his left patellar tendon and will have surgery as early as this Thursday. It’s the same injury that required surgery to repair on June 30, 2009. However, Johnson missed the entire 2009 season after a blood clot developed in his leg following the surgery.

Baldwin said Johnson and EWU will appeal to the NCAA in the offseason to grant him a sixth year to complete his four years of eligibility. He will eventually have at least 19 games wiped out because of injuries -- 12 in 2009 and seven remaining regular season games this season.

“He just needs to get it done,” said Baldwin of the surgery. “The silver lining is that he has a very good possibility of getting a sixth year and playing next season. I know he’s going to continue to be a great captain this season by encouraging and helping his teammates.”

Although he played sparingly last Saturday (Sept. 24) against Montana State and had only one tackle, through four games he is tied for the team lead in tackles with 30. He has started all 30 games he has played as an Eagle, with 260 career tackles to rank 10th in school history. A second-team All-Big Sky Conference selection in 2010 and a preseason All-American this season, Johnson’s average of 8.7 tackles per game is fourth-best in school history.

Baldwin said Johnson will probably be replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Grant Williams at EWU’s weak-side linebacker position. Senior Bobby Gentry would have probably started in place of Johnson, but he suffered a biceps injury versus MSU and is questionable this week.

Johnson’s injury is the latest blow to the 0-4 Eagles, who have already have five offensive linemen miss playing time because of injuries. At least two of them have been lost for the season.

“Zach is a great football player and will be missed,” added Baldwin. “But that’s football, and all the injuries we’ve been dealing with this season are part of the game. Every year is different in those regards and we feel bad for Zach, as well as our other injured players. But we’re excited about the opportunity it provides for somebody else to step up into that role.”

Johnson’s twin brother, Matt Johnson, has also started every game he has played as an Eagle and enters this week’s home game versus Weber State with 29 tackles on the season. He has played in 12 more career games than his brother, and has 318 tackles in his career to move into sixth all-time at Eastern.

The Johnson twins are both 2007 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School. Zach’s career average of 8.7 tackles per game is slightly better than the 7.6 average for his brother. Eastern’s record is held by Jason Marsh (11.2 from 1991-93), with Greg Belzer second (9.5 from 1997-2000) and J.C. Sherritt third (9.2 from 2007-2010).

Matt now ranks second in school history in interceptions with 17, and he is just one interception away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. He is currently tied with former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93), who both have 17 each. Johnson is also only nine interception return yards from the record of 219 held by Schulz, and his six career forced fumbles is tied for the school record along with J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97).

The twins had big performances in the last 11 games of the 2010 season in helping guide the Eagles to the NCAA Division I title. In those 11 contests -- all victories -- they combined for 189 tackles, five interceptions and 11 passes broken up. In the NCAA Division I Championship game, Zach Johnson had 15 tackles with a pair of sacks, and Matt Johnson added nine tackles and a pass broken up.

Zach Johnson finished second on the team in 2010 with 134 tackles (sixth in school history), and also had 3 1/2 sacks, five passes broken up, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

Matt had five interceptions in 2010 to help Eastern lead the FCS with 26. He had 105 tackles (19th in school history), eight passes broken up, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the 2010 season.

As freshmen in 2008, the brothers combined for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team, with Zach finishing with 96 and a team-high seven passes broken up, and Matt closing the year with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. Both players earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades in 2008, and Matt repeated on that squad in 2009.

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