MISSOULA — He mesmerized University of Montana football fans with his dazzling playoff performance against Northern Iowa on Dec. 9, 2011.
That was the last time Jordan Johnson walked off the field at Washington-Grizzly Stadium with a smile on his face and a game day jersey on his back. The quarterback threw for three touchdowns and rushed for 86 yards on that bone-chilling night in Missoula, helping showcase UM football before a national television audience on ESPN.
Since then Johnson, described by many as a shy individual, has shed a lot of tears in the public eye, enduring a jury trial in which he was acquitted last week of a charge of sexual intercourse without consent. His long ordeal came to an official end, at least footballwise, on Tuesday when UM announced in a press release he has been reinstated on the Griz team.
“I was very happy for my buddy and his family and the whole situation,” said William Poehls, Montana junior offensive lineman. “Very happy, to say the least.”
“He’s all-around just a good guy. It’s hard to break it down, but he’s really humble. That’s one of the biggest aspects I’ve noticed from him as a person and a player. He’s a phenomenal quarterback, but he is definitely humble.”
Linebacker Jordan Tripp echoed those thoughts.
“Just as a unit we’re excited. The team is excited,” said the standout senior-to-be. “He’s a great friend. Good leader.”
Montana football coach Mick Delaney communicated in a text message Tuesday that he’s unable to comment on the situation. But he did confirm Johnson “will be in spring ball (on March 18) competing for a starting job.”
The University of Montana’s Athletic Conduct Team decided to reinstate Johnson after hearing his appeal on Monday. Johnson appealed his suspension from the team over the weekend.
“We met with him and had a great discussion,” UM athletic director Kent Haslam said.
Four officials were involved in the meeting. The list included Haslam, senior women’s administrator Jean Gee, faculty athletics representative Jim Lopach and Greg Machek, chairman of the university athletic committee.
“I don’t want to dive too deeply into what we discussed, but what I can tell you is Jordan expressed a desire to return, that was important to him,” Haslam said. “At this point, you know you just want to help people get back to normal lives as much as we can, also understanding it’s been difficult for a lot of people.”
Johnson, who has used up two years of eligibility, was suspended from the Grizzlies briefly last March after a fellow student took out a restraining order against him. He was then removed from the team under UM’s athletic code of conduct when the rape charge was filed in Missoula County District Court.
That was last July 31. From the initial restraining order to the conclusion of the trial took nearly one year. The case also seemed to be a major factor in the dismissals of head coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day, though when they were fired last March 29 UM President Royce Engstrom mentioned only that a change of leadership was needed.
Johnson threw for exactly 2,400 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2011, against nine interceptions. He also was the Grizzlies’ third-leading rusher that season, with 506 yards.
“I’m happy for Jordy and his family that this phase of what has gone on in the past year is over,” O’Day said Tuesday. “I wish him the best of luck.
“It will be nice to see him back on the field playing again. Jordy is a very talented player. He was a kid I got to know a little bit from the moment he came on the campus because he was Robin Pflugrad’s top recruit that first year he got the job. He’s always been very quiet and shy, and I’m glad he can move on in his life.”
Engstrom approved Johnson’s reinstatement, it was also announced Tuesday.
“What’s important to talk about is there was a process in place that allows any student athlete to appeal their suspension,” Haslam said. “We followed through on that process and felt like reinstating Jordan Johnson to the football team was the right thing to do.
“We’re always trying to improve and make sure we get better. I think it’s important for student athletes to have a way to appeal and have their moment when they visit with folks and we can talk about this thing.”
According to a 2012 article published in USA Today, many college officials agree it would be wrong to ignore sexual assault reports, but some feel unequipped to handle such cases. Under Title IX, they face lawsuits from both sides.
As the article states, colleges are required to use a preponderance of evidence policy in these cases, a belief that guilt is more likely than not, and a much lower standard of due process than defendants have in criminal court.
Johnson did not immediately return a phone message left by the Missoulian on Tuesday. His Grizzlies will open their 2013 season at home against Appalachian State on Aug. 31.