Ann Arbor – There are a bunch of shoeboxes filled with track medals somewhere in the attic in the home where Drake Johnson grew up.
Johnson, a sophomore running back at Michigan, was a track star at Ann Arbor Pioneer, where he also played football in the shadow of Michigan Stadium. His father, Michael, allowed his son a day to cherish each medal he won.
And then, after enjoying the medal and what it represented, Drake would place it on his dresser before going to bed.
"It was just gone," Johnson said Tuesday after practice, describing what happened to the medals after that routine.
Johnson had a breakout performance in a 34-10 victory over Indiana last Saturday. He finished with 122 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns. He had missed almost the entire 2013 season after suffering a torn ligament and was held out of spring drills earlier this year.
But that performance already is stuffed away in a shoebox.
"It taught me you have it for one day and then it's gone," Johnson said of his father's lesson. "You have to move on. Who cares if you have just one medal? You want to go win another one, you want to get another one, and another one. You're not going to get that sitting there staring at the medal. Personally, I'm not going to get better sitting here thinking about Indiana.
"My dad always tells me you have to stay hungry, you have to stay humble. You can't allow one game to define who you are."
Johnson was quick after the Indiana game to credit the offensive line for allowing him to be productive. Center Jack Miller said the line did a pretty good job, but praised Johnson.
"Drake had an awesome game and made us better at times," Miller said. "That's what you need, that's what you hope for. All 11 were doing their jobs."
Michigan coach Brady Hoke described Johnson as a slasher and credited him for seeing the right holes.
"I think they blocked the line of scrimmage well, but I thought he read some things well," Hoke said.
Michigan is 4-5 with three regular-season games remaining. The Wolverines must win at least two to become bowl eligible, and that begins Saturday at Northwestern.
So it was not until the ninth game of the season that Johnson got a chance, and, frankly, he said it was not until a few weeks ago during the bye that the offense began to click for him. After all, he was held out of spring practice, the first under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and was limited to only taking what he called, mental reps. As a running back, Johnson said you need to "feel" what's happening on the field.
Then it became about need against Indiana. Derrick Green is out for the season with a broken collarbone, and De'Veon Smith moved into the role of lead tailback with Justice Hayes also increasing his work load. But Smith suffered an apparent ankle injury against Indiana, and Johnson had his big second-half performance.
"Midway into camp I felt physically fine, and I mentally knew (the offense), but there was no connect between the two," Johnson said. "I knew what was going on and I physically could do it, but there was no synergy between the two."
Then, it clicked a few weeks ago.
"I felt like I got this," Johnson said, snapping his fingers three times. "That week I started feeling I got this."
And now he's getting attention. One big game can do that. Then again, it just might be the hair.
"It might be the hair, I think I have pretty distinctive hair," he said, smiling. "I put my hood up and walk around in discreet manner. More people say hi. I tend to try and keep mellowed out."
Johnson wears No. 20 in honor of former Wolverine Mike Hart, the program's all-time leading rusher. Hart has a big personality, though, while Johnson describes himself as shy.
"It's nerve-wracking almost when multiple people come up and say hello to you, and it's not kind of your character to say hello to everyone else," Johnson said. "It's taken me out of my comfort zone, I guess. When you play football, you have this switch -- you're on the field in front of 115,000 people and you have no nerves at all, but when someone comes up you're like, 'Hiiiiiii.' It's like two different personalities almost. Stepping out of (the comfort zone) is no problem it's just different."
Johnson was just starting to really understand football when he discovered Hart.
"That was the first year I was like, 'I know that is. I know No. 20, who he is, and what he's doing, what position he's playing," Johnson said. "It just so happened he was one of the best, if not the best running back in Michigan history, and I was like, 'That's who I'm going to be.' I'm 10 or 11 years old, I want to be like him."
He arrived at Michigan and got the No. 29 jersey.
"And I was like, maybe it would be a little more motivating if I got the number my idol wore," Johnson said of making the switch. "It would push me and force me to try and be as good as him."
Johnson said after the Indiana game that if he's asked to carry the ball 40 times or four or not at all, he's fine with that and trusts the coaches. And while he's had fun in the aftermath of his performance against Indiana, he has put the shoebox in the attic.
"It's not about one game," Johnson said. "It's just one game. We have another three for sure. We need to win those. That's what we should be focused on. We need to be focused on what's Saturday. Indiana is past, Northwestern is in front of us."