Around the Region

Johnson's journey ends in playoffs

Rio Johnson started his career at East Carolina, and is hoping not to end his 2015 season on Saturday at St. John's.
Dubuque athletics photo 

The Dubuque football team lost its season opener at St. John’s, 45-9. So the fact that the Spartans drew a rematch with SJU in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs might not seem ideal.

But the Spartans – winners of their last eight games – believe they are a different team than they were in Week 1, and they are eager to prove it.

“I think we’ve improved as a team each week, and I think that’s probably been as important as anything,” said Dubuque coach Stan Zweifel, whose team earned an automatic qualification into the playoffs by winning the IIAC with a 7-0 record.

He said he’s not sure if his team has played a complete game yet. But Zweifel liked the effort he saw in individual halves of the Spartans’ last two games.

Zweifel credits winning the turnover battle and playing stout defense for Dubuque’s recent success.

“During that eight-game win streak, we’ve done a great job of limiting people in the run game. We’ve been outstanding at taking the ball away and not letting people stay on the field for long drives.”

As Dubuque has progressed, so as its quarterback. To be fair, junior Rio Johnson needed some time to get back in the swing of things after not stepping on the gridiron for two years.

Johnson’s collegiate career began at East Carolina. He used a redshirt in 2009, served as third-string quarterback in 2010, appeared in four games in 2011 and made just two appearances in 2012.

He decided to transfer and take his chances elsewhere.

“I thought I was going to be able to play that following year, but they said I was ineligible. So instead of wasting two semesters and wasting a year, I just sat out two years,” Johnson explained.

The signal-caller originally looked at schools closer to his home in Atlanta, but become connected with Zweifel through a friend.

“He basically recruited me for 18 months,” Johnson said of Dubuque’s coach.

His interaction with Zweifel and the coach’s style ultimately swayed Johnson to head north and join the D-III ranks.

“He's a great guy. I felt very comfortable coming up here and being around him,” Johnson said. “His play calling and the scheme he's in – I felt I would fit very well into it.”

Johnson said he missed the camaraderie of playing and was happy to get back on the field. However, it took time for him to adjust to a new team.

“He came to us a little bit rusty. But he came with a humbleness about him and a team-player (mentality) about him,” Zweifel...

Read the rest of this column


Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 


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