Former Herd RB Devon Johnson dead at 25
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University is once again mourning the loss of a figure within its football program.
Former running back Devon Johnson died Tuesday at the age of 25 at Bluefield Regional Medical Center. His aunt, Francis Johnson, confirmed his passing on Tuesday evening. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday learned about Johnson’s passing after Tuesday’s practice and issued a statement.
“I am shocked and saddened at the news of Devon Johnson’s passing,” Holliday said. “Devon was a force in our program, both literally and figuratively. Whether on the field or off, his impact was immeasurable and he will be missed by so many at Marshall. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.”
BlueTornadoLive, a fan-based Twitter account that focuses on Johnson’s alma mater, Richlands High School in Virginia, put out a post with Johnson’s picture and condolences Tuesday evening.
“I don’t know how to even begin to (put) this into words. ... but we lost one of the greatest Blues to ever grace this earth tonight,” the post said. “Former Richlands, @HerdFB and @Panthers (Carolina Panthers) great Devon Johnson has passed away far too early. Please pray for this town.”
The Richlands, Virginia, native came to Marshall as a linebacker, but left the Thundering Herd as one of the top-10 rushers in Marshall history, despite not moving to running back until fall camp before his junior year in a transition from tight end.
During that 2014 season, Johnson took Conference USA by storm, producing 1,767 yards and 17 touchdowns and helped lead Marshall to the Conference USA championship - its lone C-USA football title in program history. Johnson’s 8.58 yards per carry average was tops nationally among backs who averaged 15 carries per game. Those numbers led him to being a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top running back.
Johnson earned the nickname “Rockhead” because of his bullish, bruising running style and his ability to run through the opposition.
His 2015 season was abbreviated by injuries, but he still rushed for 593 yards and five touchdowns in seven games.
For his Marshall career Johnson rushed for 2,373 yards, which put him 10th all-time on the Herd career list. Johnson set the Marshall game record for rushing yards with 272 against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 25, 2014.
The Carolina Panthers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and injuries prevented him from advancing past the practice squad.
November is already a tough month for the Marshall athletics family with its tragic history involving the Nov. 14 1970, Marshall plane crash. As news of Johnson’s death made its way to current and former members of Marshall’s football program, the reaction was shock, sadness and disbelief that a teammate had gone so soon.
“Phenomenal personality & would light up whatever room he entered. Unreal to hear these news. Going to miss you buddy,” said former Marshall kicker Kaare Vedvik through his Twitter account (@KaareVedvik).
“R.I.P. to the legendary @devon_johnson47,” former Marshall safety Kendall Gant said.
Former linebacker D.J. Hunter, who was one of Johnson’s best friends, put out an old post from January in which Hunter’s mother wore Johnson’s NFL Combine jersey and said, “I Loved Devon Johnson”. Hunter followed that with retweets of the ensuing conversation between he and Johnson, which showed his love for friends and family.
Marshall fan Zach Heaberlin (@Zach_OutLoud) also noted Johnson’s importance and stature, saying “RIP Devon Johnson. #Rockhead will always be a legend in the 304.”
Johnson was the third high-profile Marshall football figure to pass away since August.
On Aug. 14, quarterback Reggie Oliver, who made history with a game-winning touchdown pass against Xavier that gave Marshall its first win after the 1970 Marshall plane crash, died at the age of 66 after an accident at his home in Alabama.
That was followed by the death of Michael Payton on Sept. 27, who passed away at the age of 48 after a battle with cancer.