Those who followed James Johannesson's prep career in North Dakota probably weren't surprised with his breakout performance in the Gophers annual spring game.
Johannesson, who rushed for 2,671 and 2,071 yards his final two years at Fargo South High School, had 22 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown Saturday, helping lead the Gold over the White 19-7.
The Gold had the more dominant offensive line, and Johannesson showed his speed and cutting ability as he burst through the holes and made defenders miss. He reeled off carries of 12, 6, 7 and 10 yards, setting up a field goal before halftime.
The redshirt freshman had a 7-yard touchdown run on his first drive after halftime and added a 44-yard burst later in the second half.
"He's somebody that keeps getting better and better," coach Tracy Claeys said. "... He’s maybe our most improved player on offense from the day we started [spring practice]."
Johannesson was a two-time Gatorade North Dakota Player of the Year selection. But for all his high school success, he found himself behind two highly talented freshmen running backs from Georgia last year, in Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. Johannesson had a bigger adjustment to make to the college game, especially running between the tackles.
He improved last fall, but especially this spring with the Gophers running their "middle drill" -- a repetitive series of running plays -- for 30-40 minutes per practice.
"I think sometimes he probably thinks we are crazy for all the middle drill that we do and how many times we turn around and hand it off," Claeys said. "He’s learned how to run the ball inside. That is something that he couldn’t do when he first got out there. He’s learned how to get the ball up inside and be patient on some cuts, so very proud of him."
Claeys said Johannesson needs to "lower his pad level" more to "avoid some of the big hits," but it appears the Gophers have found some of the depth they'll need at running back. Another redshirt freshman, Jonathan Femi-Cole, showed his ability to fight for tough yards during spring camp, and the Gophers have a bigger-bodied junior college running back coming this summer, in Kobe McCrary.
Added up, and running back is one position where the Gophers should only be better this fall.