What’s in a name: The story of WSU receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack’s quest for his identity

WSU receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack grew up only ever having known himself as ‘Isaiah Johnson.’ But he ultimately discovered that his stepfather was not his biological one. Since then, he’s been on an odyssey of self discovery.

The JOHNSON-MACK on the back of his jersey, and the No. 9 on the front of it instead of the No. 5 he wore last season tell a more intimate story of Isaiah Johnson-Mack’s life than he’ll ever let on.

As the 16th-ranked Cougars duel No. 5 USC at Martin Stadium on Friday night, Washington State’s sophomore starting receiver is eager to prove his mettle against some of the best college defensive backs in the country.

Through four games, Johnson-Mack is the Cougars’ third-leading receiver, with 24 catches for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and appears to have all the physical tools to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Michael Crabtree, to become an NFL player.

At a strapping 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, with soft hands, a knack for catching jump balls, and the speed to burn past DBs, Johnson-Mack goes up for balls with a self-assured air, and comes down with them emphatically, as if daring anyone to challenge him.

Yet, nestled under the letters and numbers of his jersey, hidden deep below the tattooed skin of a man who wants to be nationally renowned for his football toughness and receiving prowess, pumps the heart of a boy who’s still searching fervently for his identity.

Until fall 2016, when he asked the WSU football equipment staff to add “MACK” to the back of his jersey, Isaiah, 19, had made his name in the football world as Isaiah Johnson.

For years, that was the only name he knew. His driver’s license lists him as Isaiah Jhacoree Johnson. He signed his scholarship papers with WSU on January 11, 2016 as “Isaiah Johnson,” and his 19-month old son who was born back home in Florida a month later was named Isaiah Johnson Jr.

Washington State wide receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack (9)…

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