Ian's storybook season hooks the nation

Idaho StatesmanJanuary 7, 2007 

First it was the crocheting hobby.

Then the five-touchdown game against Oregon State, the ensuing Heisman Trophy run and a partially collapsed lung.

And, finally, a wildly unique marriage proposal.

The Ian Johnson story just kept getting better in 2006. And at each step, he became more popular and more famous — riding his wave of success all the way to "Good Morning America" and other New York City talk shows.

Along the way, Johnson set a school record for single-season rushing yards (1,713), led the nation in touchdowns (25), landed on two All-America first teams and finished eighth in the Heisman race.

He capped his sophomore season by proposing to girlfriend Chrissy Popadics, a Boise State cheerleader, on the field moments after scoring the game-winning 2-point conversion in theFiesta Bowl on the Statue of Liberty play.

"He's a little different guy," teammate Marty Tadman said. "When you think about Ian Johnson proposing to his girlfriend, you got to think of the weirdest circumstance that he could possibly do it. I think this was it."

Johnson dropped to one knee on national TV. He didn't have the ring — he's not Terrell Owens — but it was in his hotel room because he planned to propose when the couple went to California for the semester break.

Fiesta Bowl representatives Johnson met in Arizona suggested he propose on national TV if the Broncos won.

"I didn't want to be that person that brought the ring and then we lose," Johnson said. "Then it's like, ‘Geez, I hate this ring.' "

The proposal was just one of many memorable moments produced by Johnson.

Johnson, who first earned fame for his hobby of crocheting blue-and-orange hats and scarves, became the featured back this season on a team that had lost three senior tailbacks.

He emerged as a national star Sept. 7, when he rushed for 240 yards and five touchdowns against Oregon State.

As the yards and touchdowns mounted, so did the interview requests.

ESPN The Magazine and ESPN "College GameDay" produced features on him, with his crocheting as the hook.

Coaches kept a close watch on Johnson'smedia time, but also knew he wasn't the big-headed type.

"It's all about staying grounded," running backs coach Jeff Choate said as the Heisman campaign began. "Ian got what he's getting because he deserved it, because he worked his tail off."

Johnson's season hit its low point Nov. 11 at San Jose State. He rushed for 149 yards in the Broncos' 23-20 comeback win but went directly to the hospital after the game with a partially collapsed left lung.

He spent five nights in a California hospital and missed the next game against Utah State.

He returned to rush for 147 yards in the season finale against Nevada and 100 yards in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, two of the best defenses the Broncos faced.

"He's so tough it's unbelievable," BSU quarterback Jared Zabransky said after the Nevada game. "There was a couple times in there you could tell he was hurting and he kept battling because he knew that we needed him. To do what he's done this year is amazing."

The only things missing at that point were an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony and a marriage proposal.

Johnson will try for the Heisman invitation the next two seasons. He took care of the proposal on New Year's Day.

"That's going to be told to the grandkids, the great grandkids," Johnson said of his proposal. "That's going down in the history of the Johnsons and the Broncos. That story's going to be told many times over."

The same could be said of his entire storybook season.

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