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Originally published March 7, 2013 at 7:58 PM | Page modified March 8, 2013 at 1:43 PM

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Injuries behind him, UW's James Johnson looking for big senior year

Johnson's wrist injury last fall kept him on the sideline, but his return should be a big boost to the Huskies' passing game in 2013.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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James, you started out as a freshman on fire, wit starhdom written all over you. Now yo... MORE
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James Johnson, who famously scored the first touchdown of the Steve Sarkisian era against LSU in 2009, is the old man of the Huskies now.

A fifth-year senior, he's the only player on the roster who saw action in that 2009 season, the first after UW made the transition from Tyrone Willingham to Sarkisian.

Age, though, has hardly dimmed Johnson's enthusiasm for a new season. In fact, there were few players more eager to begin spring practice this week than Johnson, who returned to the field for first time since a wrist injury last August derailed what he thought was shaping up to be a standout senior season.

"I thought he was really excited to be back, and at times too excited," Sarkisian said after Tuesday's first practice of the spring. "He's just got to settle down and get used to playing again."

Johnson acknowledged that he could hardly stand the wait to get back on the field.

"It's been a long six months, so I'm really excited and happy to be out here," he said. "I feel like I am a freshman almost again because I've been out of the game so long."

The wrist injury continued what has been a frustrating series of ailments for Johnson, who caught 39 passes as a true freshman in 2009 but has caught just 29 since.

His sophomore season in 2010 was dampened by an ankle injury. He was having a nice comeback season in 2011 before another ankle injury at midseason slowed him the rest of the year.

Johnson was ready to set all that aside last August when he showed up to camp feeling as good as he ever had, appearing set for a starting role at receiver alongside Kasen Williams.

What Johnson called "a freak accident" in practice, however, again interrupted his plans.

"I caught a ball running to the sideline and I got pushed and tried to break my fall," said Johnson, talking about the injury for the first time. "Next thing you know, I dislocated a bone which tore all the ligaments in my wrist. So they had to completely reconstruct my wrist."

Johnson can only shake his head at the litany of aches and pains since his freshman season.

"I've just been a very unlucky person," he said. "Not as unlucky as (teammate) Deontae Cooper (a running back who has had three season-ending knee injuries) but I have been very unlucky with injuries. That's something that is out of my control."

Without Johnson, the Huskies struggled to find a third receiver to complement Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, one of several issues that caused Washington's passing game to go from record-setting in 2011 to the bottom half of the Pac-12 in 2012.

Earlier this week, Sarkisian said improving the passing game would be a spring priority.

"I think from a personnel standpoint, we will be (better)," he said. "We are maturing at that position. It's great to get James back. Kasen and Austin are only going to continue to improve. Jaydon Mickens should improve — Marvin Hall, DiAndre Campbell too."

And while the constant string of ailments has frustrated Johnson, he's also looking at the bright side — he's got one more chance, one more season with quarterback Keith Price (who along with Johnson and safety Will Shamburger are the only three players left from the Class of 2009) and the rest of his teammates.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's a great opportunity to be with Keith for another year, to be with (junior receiver) Kevin (Smith) for another year and to continuously mentor the young guys. I plan on doing some big things, and hopefully setting some really good records. That's my goal individually, and obviously collectively I want to help us win any way possible."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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