AMES, Iowa — Tyler Johnson had the ball in his hands and 54 yards to cover and suddenly it was like he was back at Haskell High.
“It wasn't my first rodeo as far as having the ball,” said the Cowboys senior defensive end. “High school days, I was actually a running back.”
And a pretty good one, too, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns in his final season.
But that was 10 years ago, with a pro baseball stint and a couple of position switches at OSU in between. And as Johnson admitted, laughing even Saturday, he lost steam quickly after scooping up a fumble and starting off on his return for a touchdown, a punctuation mark in the Cowboys' 58-27 win at Iowa State.
“I must have gone five yards with the ball,” Johnson said, “and I was tired.”
Behind him, the trailing Justin Gilbert offered to bail him out.
“I thought he was going to get tackled,” Gilbert said. “I was running behind him the whole time trying to get him to pitch me the ball. I was screaming, ‘Tyler! Tyler! Tyler!' He said he heard me, but he took it on into the end zone. And I'm happy for him.”
Besides, Gilbert already had his, jumping a first-quarter Sam Richardson pass for a 31-yard interception return for a score – one of three OSU takeaways on the day, contributing mightily to OSU's romp at Jack Trice Stadium.
“We all know that if you score twice on defense, you've got a great chance to win,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
The Cowboys hadn't scored a defensive touchdown since the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Purdue last season.
Not for lack of trying.
“We've said it,” said coordinator Glenn Spencer, “‘We've got to score on defense.'”
Said and done.
And two defensive scores, at that, which the Cowboys haven't done since 2006, when Donovan Woods and Darnell Smith both found the end zone against Baylor.
On a windy day in Ames when OSU's passing game was gimpy and the offense was OK, the scoreboard help from Gilbert and Johnson was welcomed.
“That's a great feeling for our defense,” Gilbert said. “We want to help our offense out as much as we can. And that's something we've been wanting to do all year. We're finally doing it.”
Gilbert is used to finding the end zone, with Saturday's score the sixth non-offensive touchdown of his career.
But for Johnson, his touchdown was special. And it was a sight, as he held the ball out with one hand, waving it at times.
“I remember watching clips of Walter Payton and he carried that ball everywhere,” Johnson said. “I think I had it all over the place.”
Johnson said he figures he'll hear from the better-known running back in the family, LeShon Johnson, Tyler's cousin who once finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting and went on to play in the NFL.
“He'll definitely give me a call,” Tyler said. “And he'll probably say, ‘Where was the speed?'”
Still, Johnson showed his old Haskell instincts, patiently waiting for a convoy of blockers to lead the way, with Lyndell Johnson out in front waving for him to follow.
Rambling down the sideline, as he neared the end zone, Johnson dove past one final Cyclone into the end zone.
“Oh man, as a defensive player, you rarely get those opportunities,” Johnson said. “So to get that opportunity today was a blast. Taking it into the end zone was even better.”