Senior staff writer
Marian University sophomore Luke Johnston appears relaxed as he walks across campus. Inside the physical education building, the Southport product is at ease while waiting to be interviewed.
However, the 6-4, 200-pound quarterback is anxious for his second football season to begin on Indy’s growing Westside campus. Johnston started eight games last season as a freshman and set the college’s single-season record for touchdowns (31) and NAIA record for TD/pass completion percentage (15.9 percent).
Johnston shrugs off the start, which helped the Knights to a No. 1 ranking, because he missed the Knights’ last four games when a nagging back condition resurfaced.
He suffered from spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), which usually affects older adults, and two bulging discs; any further slippage of the discs could have resulted in paralysis.
Johnston said he missed a game during his senior year at Southport due to his condition.
“I wanted to get it taken care of so I could still walk,” Johnston said. “After surgery I had to teach the muscles in my lower back to be able to walk again.”
He was inactive for three months then gradually began walking, jogging and sprinting, throwing the football and restrictive weight training. He threw some during spring drills in late April but remained on the sidelines.
“I took mental reps every day and that really helped a lot, but I really wanted to be out there,” Johnston said. “It helped to sit back and see the big picture, so that will help me with reads (defenses).”
Johnston said there were times he felt like he was letting his teammates down by not practicing or playing but that surgery was essential to his well-being. He has no doubts he will be ready when practice officially begins Aug. 5. The Knights open at St. Xavier (Ill.) University in Oak Lawn and have their first home game Sept. 9 against Robert Norris (Ill.).
“I’m approaching this season like everything is the same as if I never got hurt,” Johnston said. “I just want to get in there, do what I’m supposed to do, and get better every day.”
He will spend two hours watching film and another hour or two reviewing the upcoming game plan.
His 3.0-plus GPA is as impressive as his 68.2 percent pass completions (133 of 195 and only two interceptions) for 2,508 yards. Ethan Dartar replaced Johnston as the Knights finished the regular season 11-0 but fell in their playoff opener to Eastern Oregon.
The Knights graduated key receivers, including Krishawn Hogan, a rookie free agent with the Arizona Cardinals, and former Southport receiver Jimmie Walker; but fifth-year coach Mark Henninger, a 1992 Roncalli graduate, has plenty of replacements.
Johnston’s younger brother Matt Johnston is recovering from ACL surgery after being injured last season. He is a receiver who has recovered. A younger sister and youngest brother also attend Southport schools.
The Knights roster features several former Southside players: Jackson Sodrel and Conner Steeb from Center Grove; Kyler White, David Diehl, Perry Meridian; Joe Swan, Louis Hibner, Roncalli; and Micah Brown, Evan Higgs, Southport.
“The support we have is awesome, and the players love it,” Johnston said. “We have thousands of fans at each home game and there’s a good buzz on social media. And coach makes sure each player feels they are part of the team – it’s special to be on this team; we know what to do to succeed.”