Turner seconds Johnson

Turner seconds Johnson

   CHAMPAIGN  During Illinois football games, you normally can find Kirk Johnson standing on the sidelines, signaling in plays.

   Not anymore. That job belongs to the third-string quarterback. For the first time this season, that won''t be Johnson.

   The redshirt sophomore from Nashville, Tenn., has moved ahead of Mark Hoekstra on the Illinois depth chart. At worst, he will be Tim Lavery''s backup against Purdue. There''s a chance he might win the starting job this week in practice.

   "I''d like to get him in at some point," Illinois coach Ron Turner said.

   Turner didn''t discount the idea of Johnson starting. During last week''s three practices, Lavery and Johnson split time on the first team.

   The promotion ends a long, sometimes painful journey for Johnson. He entered last spring as the No. 2 quarterback behind Hoekstra. By the end of training camp, he had dropped below Lavery and Brian Sheard to No. 4.

   "After the spring, it didn''t really look like ... this was ever going to happen," Johnson said.

   "Nobody really believed I could come back and do this. I''m not even sure the coaches believed I could come back and do this."

   Johnson spent the summer commuting between Champaign and Nashville. He worked with his Illinois teammates during the week, then left Thursday nights for weekend passing sessions with Kent Austin, a former Canadian Football League player.

   "It took a lot of hard work this summer," Johnson said. "Now, it''s put me in a position where I can play."

   After summer training camp, Johnson moved to the third team behind Hoekstra and Lavery.

   When he had opportunities in practice, Johnson tried to show the coaches he was ready.

   "They kept telling me to ''Hang in there. You''re going to get your shot,'' " Johnson said. "I''ve kept asking for my shot and wanting my shot because I feel like I can go into a game and move this team and play well."

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