(Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

First thing’s first: Here is today’s print story on Maryland cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, a budding spoken-word poet who recently performed at the student-athlete talent show. Below is an accompanying blog slightly more related to football.

The long road back from his fractured toe was supposed to take eight weeks, but eight weeks came and went and Jeremiah Johnson was still waiting to play again. Suffered in the season opener against Florida International, on the first kickoff return of the second half, the injury had sidelined Johnson until the finale versus North Carolina State, when he appeared for two plays.

In between, the junior cornerback spent months rehabilitating, attending meetings and traveling to away games, trying to serve as a mentor to the less experienced players tasked with replacing him on the outside. Now, with the Military Bowl eight days away, he feels closer than ever, near to what he once was.

“I’m not exactly where I want to be, but I’m getting really close,” Johnson said. “I’m just fortunate to have a coaching staff and trainers that understand that I have to progress to doing things, taking more reps. I’m just fortunate to have guys at my position who I never felt like I had to fight through the pain regardless because I’m the only guy.”

The Terrapins swallowed Johnson’s injury with equal parts bitterness and defiance. They were losing someone who had started all 12 games in 2012 and led the team in pass breakups, but freshman Will Likely and senior Isaac Goins were waiting in the wings. Besides, Dexter McDougle was still around, and through three games, he had snared three interceptions.

Then McDougle’s shoulder suffered a similar fate to Johnson’s toe, jamming into the grass against Connecticut and sidelining him for the remainder of the year. That left Likely and Goins to fill the void.

For the Military Bowl, McDougle will be nursing his shoulder back to full strength, a Pro Day appearance far more important at this stage. But Johnson is expected to return against Marshall, the nation’s seventh-ranked scoring offense and 21st-ranked pass attack, even if he hopes his comeback doesn’t disrupt the secondary’s status quo established in his absence.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said on a recent evening, sitting in the stands inside the Comcast Center auxiliary gymnasium while he waited to perform a poetry reading. “They deserve to continue to start. I’ll be good.”

This means more time for Likely, who Wednesday was named a third-team freshman all-American by Athlon Sports as a return specialist. He finished fifth on the team with 62 tackles this season and first with five pass breakups. During training camp this summer, Likely and Johnson were roommates, and the elder cornerback became a mentor figure, a role that increased once his injury happened.

“We’ve been sticking with JJ since he got injured,” Likely said. “Nothing’s changed. For him to come back, that’s a key. Everybody’s just happy for him. He’s been practicing lately, but for him to actually come back, we were excited for him last game, but to know he’s healthy, 100 percent, it’s exciting.”