By BEN JOHNSON
Nagging injuries have hampered Johnny Deaton throughout his collegiate career. From a tender shoulder to a sore thumb, ailments have accompanied a substantial portion of Deaton’s years at both Oklahoma State and Northeastern State.
But with NSU set to open the season on Sept. 7 at Pittsburg State, Deaton says he’s feeling youthful and spry all over again.
“I’m pretty healthy right now,” said the 6-foot-3, 210-pound quarterback transfer from Oklahoma State. “Shoulder is fatigued just because we’ve been in preseason, but other than that I don’t have any injuries.”
Deaton — a graduate of Charles Page High School in Sand Springs and a Tahlequah native during his early childhood years — ended up at Northeastern State in large part because of an physical impairment. During his freshman campaign at Oklahoma State, Deaton injured the labrum in his throwing shoulder, sending him further down the depth chart until he transferred the following the summer.
All he’s done at NSU in two full seasons is set 11 school records — all coming during the RiverHawks’ 2011 season that ended in a trip to the Mineral Water Bowl. That year, Deaton shrugged off continuous thumb pain to pass for 2,520 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Now he is ready to embark on a season that he feels 100 percent going into.
“I feel probably the best I’ve felt since probably my freshman year,” Deaton said.
Originally, Deaton was slated to be a junior for the RiverHawks in 2013. However, the NCAA disagreed, and Deaton is now NSU’s senior leader on offense.
“The NCAA said there wasn’t sufficient information from OSU, so (NSU head coach Kenny Evans) told me that I’d be listed as a senior this year,” Deaton said. “He said there’s still a chance that (the NSU coaches) could meet with the NCAA after the season, but (Evans) said, ‘as of now, you are a senior.’
Deaton was a little jarred by the news, but he said he certainly understands that’s life in the NCAA.
“It wasn’t necessarily a blind-side, because I understand how the NCAA has to look at stuff,” Deaton said. “It’s strict nowadays with all the stuff that’s happened with previous cases. I just took it with a grain of salt, and I have to take on a big role with me being a senior.”
In 2012, Deaton’s numbers declined as the RiverHawks entered into the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. He completed 47.8 percent (152 of 318) of his passes for 1,861 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also tossed 12 interceptions and ranked 14th in the MIAA in pass efficiency with a 99.8 rating — 55.5 points behind Missouri Western’s Travis Partridge, the league leader.
Nevertheless, Evans is still 100 percent committed to Deaton as NSU’s starting quarterback.
“He had a great spring, and he’s came back in better shape than he’s been in,” said Evans, going into his sixth year as the RiverHawks’ head coach. “He has some young receivers that are catching the ball right now, and it’s some of the intangible things that he’s doing a really good job at, like talking to the team and getting the plays in and out and getting us into the right situation.”
Working in Deaton’s favor is another year with offensive coordinator Paul Lane. It’s the first time in Deaton’s collegiate career that he’s had the same offensive coordinator for a second straight season.
“Our new offensive coordinator is going into his second year, and things are looking much better than they were in the past,” Deaton said. “...I think we have a great outlook for the upcoming season.”
Deaton is healthy, so NSU is already off to a solid start.