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Quentin Johnston plays many roles for No. 3 TCU: two-time All-Big 12 first team wide receiver, Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan's security blanket, venerable team captain, calming voice in the clutch whose heart rate slows down when the game is on the line

"Quentin is kind of our go-to guy," TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. "Quentin is such a physical presence, and he gets a lot of attention because he should. He's capable of making big plays."

Despite being limited over the final month of the regular season with a high-ankle sprain, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound playmaker has been one of the nation's best pass-catchers, powering TCU to its first College Football Playoff appearance after having 200-1 preseason national championship odds, the longest by any 2022-23 CFP participant. 

He'll be fully ready to roll on New Year's Eve when the Horned Frogs' sixth-ranked scoring offense (40.3 PPG) takes on No. 2 Michigan's fifth-ranked scoring defense (13.4 PPG allowed).

"Obviously, we're a different team when he's out there playing," added Dykes, CBS Sports' Coach of the Year in his first season at TCU. "He's got a knack for making plays in incredible situations. Certainly, Max believes in him and has confidence in him, knowing that when we need a play, he's a guy you can throw it up to, and he'll make it more often than not. There's a certain level of comfort there. He's made a bunch of big plays for us that has allowed us to win some tight football games. You have to have that kind of performance from your best players in order to win."

Here's how Johnston, a native of Temple, Texas -- a town of about 85,000 roughly an hour north from Austin -- became a Horned Frog, CBS Sports' top NFL Draft-eligible wide receiver and one of TCU's most critical components to its program-altering run to the College Football Playoff.

The Recruitment

Before racking up 108 receptions, 2,024 yards, 18.7 yards per catch and 13 touchdowns in three seasons at TCU, Johnston had actually committed to rival Texas. The state's No. 14 WR and No. 9 overall player, according to 247Sports Composite, Johnston opted not to take many recruiting visits before narrowing his selection process to three schools: Baylor, Texas, and TCU. In August before his senior year in 2019, the four-star recruit tweeted his commitment to the hometown Longhorns.

But then Johnston visited TCU and everything changed. He resonated with the smaller school, tighter community and the sustained success of Gary Patterson, who went on to become the winningest coach in program history across his 22 seasons leading the Frogs. 

Johnston admitted that his high school coaches heavily influenced him committing to Texas because multiple former Temple players, including now Falcons defensive tackle Ta'Quon Graham, went on to play for the Longhorns. Johnston planned to follow in their footsteps -- until the self-described low-key pass-catcher chose his own path through Fort Worth, Texas.

"It just felt more like home."

The Sonny Dykes difference

TCU went a combined 11-11 in Johnston's first two years (2020-21) with undisciplined play plaguing the team. The Frogs were called for an average of 7.73 penalties per game, 116th out of 130 FBS teams.

This season, Dykes' first in Fort Worth, TCU averages just 4.77 penalties per game, ranking 21st out of 131 FBS teams. It's playing together as one of the more disciplined teams in the nation, which Johnston attributes to being sharper physically and to increased team bonding time thanks to Dykes and his staff, specifically Kaz Kazadi, the assistant athletics director and strength & conditioning coach.

Throughout TCU's historic 2022 campaign, the coaching staff has called up players after practice to share their personal stories with the team. That vulnerability, Johntston said, has made it "that much easier to fight for them when you actually know what they're about."

"We've had the tools to do what we're doing this year, but it was just the little things that kept us down," Johnston added. "I feel like this year they definitely instilled the discipline into us on top of the mental and physical part of actual football."

Beyond discipline and team bonding, it helps to have one of the top offenses in the country. That starts with the running game and Kendre Miller as his 1,342 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns are both the most by a TCU player in a season since Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson in 2000.

It's that production that makes the Air Raid system Dykes is running stand out in comparison to the stereotypical version associated with Big 12 offenses.

"It's good to have an Air Raid offense, but it doesn't mean anything if all of the defenders are back 20 yards," Johnston said. "You're going to get 10-15 yards at the most. With the incorporation of Kendre [Miller], Emoni Bailey and Emari Demercado, an overall running back core like that opens everything up."

One of the adjustments Johnston has made in the new offense run by Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley -- the 2022 Broyles Award winner (nation's top assistant coach) -- has been in his positional alignment. He lined up out wide to the right side of the formation on 91.7% of his offensive snaps in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2022, Johnston has lined up out wide on the left side of the formation on 80.6% of his offensive snaps, per PFF.

"In a good offense, most of the time their home-run hitter is on the left side at the X [receiver position]," Johnston said. "They tried to gameplan for me on the right side, but with their Air Raid style of offense, it works better that way."

The alignment and scheme change has done wonders for his numbers as the junior has 53 catches for 903 receiving yards this season after combining for 55 catches and 1,121 receiving yards across his first two years.

Duggan's development 

When people picture TCU's offense, what usually comes to mind is Duggan dropping back rolling out, and uncorking a deep ball down the sideline to Johnston. However, what interests Johnston is having a quarterback who can run, which he didn't experience at Temple. Duggan, the 2022 Davey O'Brien award winner (nation's best quarterback), especially took Johnston by surprise his freshman year during a home game against Texas Tech. Leading 27-18 with 1:56 to play, Duggan faked the jet sweep hand-off on third-and-10 and darted up the middle -- 81 yards to the house to seal the game.

"It was supposed to be a pass play. I run my route, he rolls out, and I'm trying to make something happen," Johnston recalled. "I'm about to turn around, and as soon as I turn around, he just vroom right by me. It kind of startled me because at the time I didn't realize how fast he was. He rolled past me, I'm trying to catch up and block, but he left me."

Countless practice and game reps together have since resulted in one of the most dominant quarterback-receiver duos in all of college football. And having played with Duggan the past three years, Johnston knows all of his quarterback's non-verbal cues. Eyes wide? He wants to go deep. Eyes darting around? Start blocking because he's going to take off and run.

And if Duggan is really in a pinch? Just throw it up to his favorite target.

"You can close your eyes and punt it to him," Duggan said of Johnston, via Barstool's Unnecessary Roughness podcast. "There's a few [passes I've thrown] that probably should've gotten picked, but Q just makes one heck of a catch. Good thing he's on our team."

That automatic connection between Duggan and Johnston has resulted in Duggan co-leading the nation in completions of 50 or more yards with North Texas QB Austin Aune, both of whom have thrown 13. Johnston has been on the receiving end of five of those deep completions, tied for the second-most catches of 50 or more yards this season, trailing only 2022 Biletnikoff winner (nation's top wide receiver), Tennessee's Jalin Hyatt, who had six. 

"I feel like our chemistry right now is unmatched," Johnston said.

"Obviously you know what type of special player that he is," Duggan said in agreement. "He bails me out a lot. The more I play with him, the more I understand what he's seeing, what I'm seeing. How we play, with his body movements and routes, you get a pretty good feel after having been with him for a while."

Clutch catches

After catching twelve passes for 114 yards in the Frogs' first four games of the season (at Colorado, vs. Tarleton State, at SMU, vs. then-No. 18 Oklahoma), Johnston erupted for 30 catches, 536 yards receiving and four touchdowns over the next four games, three of which came against ranked teams.

Johnston in 2022

Games 1-4Games 5-8Games 9-13*





Rec Yds




Rec TD




* Missed two games due to high-ankle injury

"People began to come at me on social media and say I sucked this year, among other things, even though I hadn't had a chance to do anything yet," Johnston said. "When it came to the big conference games, I thought [to myself], 'You are either going to let everyone keep being right or you're going to prove that you can capitalize on what you did last year.' I took those games to show that I was still here, still working over the summer and pushing myself."

TCU's 38-31 win over Kansas was a spotlight matchup as the two teams entered 5-0. TCU got the ball back locked in a 31-31 tie with just under 4 minutes to go in front of a sellout crowd in Lawrence, Kansas. Six plays and 68 yards later, the Frogs were in the end zone following Duggan's 24-yard deep ball to the back-right corner of the end zone that Johnston somehow corralled before going out of bounds.

"When you look outside and you have a guy like Quentin Johnston, I think he must have been built in a lab," offensive lineman Wes Harris said. 

For some of the players, that win solidified their belief that 2022 was going to be a special season.

"Before that last drive, when he huddled up, it was like a movie. I swear to God, we all huddled up saying, 'We can do this, we got it, we fought so hard for it,'" offensive lineman Steve Avila recalled. "To see us overcome adversity from that game, that gave me the idea that we're really good." 

While Avila remembers a fired-up huddle, Johnston spent his time taking deep breaths and staying calm. "I just kind of calmed down, stuck to my normal gameplan, and went out there with all the confidence in the world. … Coming out of the huddle, everyone was hyped, and I was staring off into space. People asked me if I was good, and I said I was just talking to myself. I went out there and did what I had to do."

Even though Johnston isn't a rah-rah type of leader, his steady, lead-by-example style is something to which his coach attributes TCU's success. Johnston confident and extremely skilled, yes, but he's also unselfish and humble, according to Dykes: "It's about 'we' and 'us' and 'what can I do to help the team?'"

That touchdown catch on the last drive against Kansas served as the exclamation point for the best game of his collegiate career as Johnston finished with 14 catches for a 206 yards. The next week, he caught the second-most passes in his career (eight) for 180 yards, including the go-ahead, 25-yard score on the second play of overtime in TCU's 43-40 double-overtime win against then No. 8 Oklahoma State -- a game in which it trailed 24-7. With the victory, the Frogs became the last undefeated team in the Big 12. 

"I had a little seam route, so I took an angle like I was going to go all the way in, and then I used that angle to go straight back up the field," Johnston recalled. "The safety wasn't looking at me. By the time he looked at me, I was wide open and just backed into the end zone and took a little hit. That was exactly how the coaches drew it up."

Another week, another tight game with a ranked conference opponent. This time, TCU fell down by an even bigger margin against then-No. 17 Kansas State, trailing 28-10 halfway through the second quarter. Yet, the Frogs once again didn't flinch, and a quarter later, Johnston's 55-yard touchdown put TCU in front for good in what ended up as a 38-28 win. 

"The play was a straight vertical, which basically says we think our players are better than your players, so we're going to run straight and see who gets the ball," Johnston said. "I came off the ball with a little hesitation, and I just shot off with my head down like a dog was chasing me. I was running full speed, the ball was right there, and I just went to the end zone. That was a big turning point in the game."

Competing against the best

One of the ways Johnston has honed his craft in practice is by regularly going up against Tre'Vius Hodges Tomlinson, the 2022 Jim Thorpe Award winner (nation's best defensive back). The two have been friends for years after playing against each other in high school when Hodges-Tomlinson was at Midway in Waco and Johnston was at Temple.

"Overall, it's high competitiveness and high intensity, but I'm pretty sure he'll tell you the same thing: We're cool in the locker room and cool outside of it, having known him since playing each other in high school. But when we put the cleats on, all the awards and accolades are the out the window," Johnston said. "We don't really talk that much [on the field], but we give each other that look of 'Yeah, you're not better than me.' … That's molded me and made me the player that I am."

Johnston will have a difficult task in front of him when going up against a Michigan secondary that held a similarly-built receiver, Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr., relatively in check during their 45-23 demolition of the Buckeyes in late November. Both Harrison and Johnston stand 6-foot-4, while Johnston packs only 10 more pounds (215) than Harrison (205).

"That's a great Michigan team that went up against a great offense, and we have taken in what happened, but that's Ohio State," Johnston said. "We're TCU, a completely different offense than them, and I have a lot of confidence in our guys. I feel like with Derius Davis [whose six return touchdowns are tied for the most in TCU history], nobody has really seen a player like him. On the other side, we have Taye Barber, a relentless player who makes catches all the time when getting hit by two or three people, still coming down with the catch. He always finds a way to catch the ball. With Savion [Williams] and myself on the outside, we're tough to defend." 

No matter what Johnston decides regarding the NFL Draft -- Duggan has already declared -- his impact at TCU has been set in stone. While Johnston acknowledged he's been "up and down" on what he will do, it's not his main focus with the College Football Playoff coming up Saturday.

"I feel good, confident about the impact I'm making with how our team has played so far, but there's a lot more that I can do to put the finishing touches on [the 2022 team's legacy]," Johnston said. "I feel like our overall competitive culture has picked up, and once you're winning a certain amount of games, you're getting different kinds of recruits. We have a lot of recruits coming by practice now, so just being able to help my team win week in and week out, it'll be great for TCU for a really long time."

No matter how the season concludes, Johnston confirmed one thing for sure: He'll actively be a Horned Frog for life.

"That's one of the reasons why I chose to come here and chose to stay when we had a change in coaching staff: I fell in love with not only the football team, but the TCU community as a whole. I don't think that's ever going to change for me. My three years here have been great, so I'll be coming back and be involved in as much stuff as I can."