If you catch UCF running back Storm Johnson on the field during pregame warm-ups or as he jogs through the gate onto the practice field, chances are you will hear his vocal chops, too.
The junior takes the field the same way every time: rapping the lyrics to his favorite songs, bobbing his head as he tunes in mentally. There is no specific playlist, just the beats of whatever comes into his head — or through his earphones — that day.
"It's just motivation," he said with a smile after practice Monday.
The habit is part of the swagger that Johnson carries onto the field, one that he has leaned on especially entering his junior season. After starting his career at Miami, transferring to UCF, sitting out a year due to NCAA rules and then backing up Latavius Murray last season, Johnson has finally stepped into the starting role this fall.
He hopes to prove he is an elite college tailback.
UCF (2-0) wanted to see Johnson embrace his opportunity by maturing into a more complete runner, one willing to pound out between-the-tackle runs as much as seek the home run. Through the first two games of the season, the Loganville High (Ga.) product has embraced the challenge.
During wins over Akron and FIU, Johnson rushed for 192 yards and five touchdowns. He is averaging 5.05 yards per carry. He had four touchdowns all of last season in the primary-backup role.
"I think he's running more north-south," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "He's a good back. I think he's better than he was last year as far as hitting where he's supposed to hit. . . . Again, he's a big kid that can move the pile. He needs to be doing that. . . . This year, I think he's more on target in getting to where he needs to get."
The Knights will need Johnson this week against the best defense they have seen yet this season. Penn State (2-0) has allowed just 66 yards rushing per game during the first two weeks of the season, eighth-best in the nation. UCF will need to balance run and pass plays in Happy Valley to keep the pressure off quarterback Blake Bortles.
To his credit, Johnson has shown a willingness to take critiques about his style and work to fit the needs of the offense. The junior has looked even more effective as the Knights have alternated sending Cedric Thompson and freshman Will Stanback into the game for first-team snaps.
"I don't ever fear . . . competition," Johnson said. "Competition is good. That's what I tell Stanback and that's what I tell Cedric. We have to push each other, because at the end of the day, it's all about us. I see [them] every day. So we're going to keep pushing each other. And they push me a lot."
The Knights hope Johnson keeps getting motivated to new levels — whether through his music routine or the challengers on the depth chart — as they move into the more challenging portion of their schedule. The next few weeks could be a chance for both UCF and Johnson to prove they have reached a higher echelon.
"I'm trying to get better at everything," Johnson said. "The offense, we have a lot of playmakers . . . We just are going to have to show it, and the time is coming on Saturday to get our respect."