Coco Johnson homered twice to lead Louisville past Bowling Green in the NCAA Baseball Regional.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Coco Johnson averaged nearly 11 yards per carry as a high school running back in Michigan. He crackled 99 yards for a touchdown with a kickoff. His thunderous upper body makes you wonder if Johnson has been hanging out with Charlie Strong's guys at the University of Louisville.
Central Michigan, the school where Brian Kelly and Butch Jones once coached, wanted Johnson to average 11 yards per carry and take kickoffs 99 yards for the Chippewas.
Johnson had a different idea, an idea you don't hear from prime high school athletes much any more. Johnson wanted to play baseball more than football in college.
No baseball, no deal.
What a deal that has become for University of Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell. Check the scoreboard at Patterson Stadium. The Cardinals defeated Bowling Green, 8-3, Friday night in U of L's NCAA Tournament regional opener.
They earned a spot in the winners' bracket against Miami (Florida) Saturday at 5 p.m. in this four-team, double elimination regional. They scored more runs in five innings than they did in two games in the Big East Tournament.
Like Central Michigan, Bowling Green is a member of the Mid-American Conference. Ask the Falcons, especially starting pitcher Mike Frank, if Johnson can hit.
Behind 1-0 after one inning, Louisville was ahead forever because of Johnson, Louisville's left fielder. His first home run tied the game in the second inning. Johnson had studied video of Frank and knew that he liked to throw changeups in fastball counts. Bam.
His second home run (and eighth of the season) put the Cardinals ahead, 3-1, in the third. Both balls cleared the left field wall and stirred the crowd of 2,650.
Johnson bats clean-up, but don't make the mistake of calling him a slugger even though this was his second two-homer game this season. He also delivered a single and a stolen base (his 21st). If Johnson catches the third baseman playing back, he'll punish him with a bunt.
"I'm just a hitter," Johnson said. "Home runs come and go. I just try to hit line drives."
Not bad for a guy who is built more like a fullback than a left fielder – 5 feet 11 and 205 pounds. Johnson's name is actually Willie Earvin-Lee Johnson IV. He's been large since his first breath. That is why Johnson said that his mother, Susan Morrow, nicknamed him Coco.
"She told me I was so dark and so fat when I was born that I looked like a Cocoa Puff," Johnson said.
Even growing up in frosty Benton Harbor, Mich., 40 miles from Notre Dame, Johnson didn't get the memo that football is the only sport that matters.
"I wasn't ready to give up baseball," Johnson said. "I loved baseball more than I did football. I miss football, but I'm over it. I don't know what I'd do without baseball."
It shows. Johnson has been one of McDonnell's top hitters all season. He arrived last fall from Central Arizona Junior College, where he played for two seasons after graduating from Lakeshore High School.
How serious was the competition in Arizona?
Let Johnson tell you the story about one of the four games his team played against Bryce Harper before Harper became the No. 1 pick in the 2010 MLB Free Agent draft of the Washington Nationals. Harper batted six times. He homered four times. He also had a triple. And a double, likely making him the first guy to miss hitting for the cycle by hitting three too many home runs.
What did you do in that game, Coco?
"Not that," Johnson said. "I don't remember."
Coco Johnson will remember what he did to Bowling Green for the University of Louisville Friday night.