A year ago Malcolm Johnson ended his redshirt freshman season with a lot of confidence and year two looked to be a break season for him.
A pectoral injury on his right side sidelined him for the first five games of the season.
The Bulldogs entered the Tennessee game with a 5-0 record and Johnson was cleared to play.
"It felt so good to be back with my brothers – you just don't know," Johnson said. "Words can't really explain. It was so emotional to come to the Dog Walk, I mean I'd been greeting the players in the locker room but to go through the Dog Walk knowing I'm fixing to hit the field was emotional for me, so I just felt good."
The tight end capped the night with a one-handed stab in the back of the end zone to lift MSU to a 41-31 win over Tennessee and a 6-0 start for the season.
"It was a good catch, (and) it was a good play by everybody," Johnson said. "Actually I was happy that we closed the game out."
Johnson returned to practice the week of the Kentucky game, one week before the meeting with the Volunteers. He has been getting back into the swing of practice and it is evident.
"He is getting better every week, just like you want out of guys," MSU tight ends coach Scott Sallach said. "He has come along well. Everyday is an opportunity for him to get back to where he was. He's a very hard working, (and) motivated young man. He is doing fine."
While injured, Johnson worked with strength coach Matt Balis and trainer Justin Gremillon.
"I give all my credit to the strength coach," Johnson said. "Some days I felt down and some days I felt a little tired, but coach Bails, his staff, Justin and the trainers kept staying on me and kept me motivated, so when I did get healthy, I could hit the ground running."
Johnson led all Southeastern Conference freshman tight ends in 2011 with 11 receptions and 206 receiving yards. He tied in touchdowns with three.
This season he has caught two passes, both against Tennessee, for 34 yards and a score.
He played against Middle Tennessee State the next week, but the Blue Raider defense made sure to zero in on the tight ends. Johnson ended the night with no catches.
This week the Bulldogs travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) in a battle of unbeaten SEC West rivals.
The No. 13 (Associated Press) Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0) are looking to get that signature win and set up a tough five-game stretch of conference opponents.
Johnson, a native of Tuscaloosa, got a start last season against the Tide at tight end.
"This year the offense wants to take a more physical, a more dominant stance than last year," Johnson said in an interview before the season. "We want to be just as physical as the defense. We don't think they have any advantage on us and so we want to be more physical than them."
The offense has shown they can put up points, but this week the test gets tougher with a good Alabama defense.