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Cape grad shines for USF


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http://www.news-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080910/SPORTS/809100404/1075

TAMPA — Taurus Johnson was waiting for his breakout game.

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The University of South Florida coaching staff was also waiting for his breakout game.

They all got their wish Saturday when the Bulls went into overtime and beat Central Florida 31-24. Johnson scored the game-winning touchdown on a 25-yard pass from Matt Grothe and the Bulls held on for the win. It wasn't simple, but neither has been the USF career of the Cape Coral High School graduate.

Johnson came out of Cape Coral as one of the most highly rated receivers in Florida. He had some success, and scored four touchdowns last season despite being plagued by injuries, but as a senior, he knows that this is his last chance to prove himself.

"I am healthy and ready for a big season,'' Johnson said. "I learned how to rebound and am looking forward to a big season.''

Johnson was coming into his own last year when the Bulls traveled to Rutgers as the No. 2 team in the nation. South Florida was cocky, Johnson was cocky and the Bulls stumbled after leading the game. So much for dreams of playing for a national championship.

To Johnson, the defeat had more serious consequences than the fact that the Bulls had to figure out alternate travel arrangements for January.

Johnson rolled his ankle early in the Rutgers loss and missed the next two games. South Florida lost each of those games and fell off the nation's radar.

Johnson said the ankle is fine and that he came into the season ready to take one more shot at being "The Man'' in the USF offense.

"It was tough,'' Johnson said. "I had to get better and it hurt, not physically, but not being on the field. I need to be a leader and I had to get back on the field.''

Johnson was the starter heading into this year's opener against Tennessee-Martin, and he caught one pass for 10 yards in a rout that was over by the end of the first five minutes.

Against UCF, in the final game of a rivalry that USF has canceled, Johnson finally made his mark. He caught six passes for 143 yards, including the game-winning touchdown. He also had a 42-yard reception earlier in the game and was clearly Grothe's favorite target by the time overtime came around.

"Taurus had a great game and Matt made a perfect pass,'' USF coach Jim Leavitt said.

Johnson said he knew he could get open in the situation that was made just for him.

"They had been playing in the box all night and we made the right call,'' Johnson said. "We did it right and got the touchdown.''

As the 19th-ranked Bulls prepare to face 13th-ranked Kansas, Grothe acknowledged the production Johnson had against UCF.

"He makes a big difference on this team and I am going to keep going to him,'' Grothe said. "He can make a difference and he showed it against UCF.''

Leavitt said he has been hard on Johnson, but that he is hard on all 14 of his seniors.

"I have been hard on him, but that is how I am on all my seniors,'' Leavitt said. "He works hard and he's a good kid.''

USF NOTES

Running backs Mike Ford and Ben Williams are questionable for Friday's game against Kansas. Barron Collier High graduate Moise Plancher may get the start. Plancher ran for 50 yards on nine carries and scored his third touchdown of the season early in the win over USF.

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