No Longer A Redshirt, Juwan Johnson Is Ready To Shine
Juwan Johnson’s name doesn’t carry the lofty status like those of Chris Godwin or DaeSean Hamilton. Nor would anybody expect it to yet, given the fact Johnson spent his first year in Happy Valley somewhat reluctantly on the sidelines. Brought in as a highly touted four-star recruit with offers from just about every major college football program imaginable, Johnson came to Penn State ready to make his mark immediately.
Unfortunately for him, things didn’t turn out that way.
The 6-foot-4, 218 pound physical specimen has all the tools, but was deemed not fully ready to play by the coaching staff at the beginning of the 2015 season, the idea of a redshirt year wasn’t the easiest concept to grasp for a player who felt ready to compete immediately. “It was definitely something that was hard for me to fathom, so I guess building mentally and physically was something I needed to improve upon,” Johnson said of lessons learned during his redshirt season.
Johnson says his confidence took a hit when he learned of the redshirt. Was he good enough? Had he been doing enough? If the coaching staff didn’t have faith in him to contribute, how was he supposed to keep walking tall? Remember, these young men are competitors, and the intrinsic nature of competitiveness isn’t something that vanishes overnight.
It wasn’t an easy process given how his redshirt status remained in a state of flux for most of the year, but Johnson’s emerged from his time off the field a new man and a better football player — one who could be on the cusp of great things. “I definitely had to work on my confidence, because it was just broken when I was redshirted. I found out about it at the beginning of the year when everyone else did, but then I was green again, but slowly during the season became red again,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was one-dimensional when I first came here, but I feel like I have multiple attributes this year. I feel like I can go deep, break you off in the beginning. I feel like I can do a lot of things.”
Though the thought of being relegated to the role of spectator was difficult, Johnson eventually realized it might be a blessing instead of a curse. “After a while, you begin to understand why you were redshirted, and that it’s ok to be redshirted,” Johnson said. “Good things will come out of it.”
Because of his redshirt status, Johnson had the unique opportunity to grow close with both Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens. As the regular season draws closer, the time spent leaning the intricate nuances of one another as football players could pay dividends when the games start to matter. But it wasn’t McSorley or Stevens who helped him reach the position he’s in now — it was his fellow receivers, especially the team’s elder statesmen. “They all helped me out during the whole process,” Johnson said. “Honestly, they’re with me, not against me.”
Team leader and veteran receiver DaeSean Hamilton was one of those mentors who guided Johnson along the way, and he sees a more mature player, vastly different than the eager blue-chip recruit who arrived last year.
“Juwan obviously has the physical gifts, he’s one of the bigger guys in the room. He’s a strong guy and a smart guy as well,” Hamilton said. “As long as he just goes out there and takes what eveyone’s been teaching him — Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, Coach Gattis, all the older guys. We’ve just been helping him and helping some of the younger guys along. A redshirt year can be tough on a player mentally, but they’re just getting themselves ready for college football from a physical standpoint.”
From the sound of it, Hamilton expects Johnson to live up to the billing. “He could be a really gifted player for us, and for him to take a bigger role on this year, I know he’ll accept it with open arms.”
For a guy who quit football twice during his playing career, it’s been a long journey to reach this point. But Johnson is ready. He’s wants you to know his name, but he’ll let his performance on the field take care of that for him. “It kind of makes me smile every time someone asks me that, because I’m so ready for this. I’m over the redshirt season,” Johnson said. “I’m just ready to put on some pads and go after someone who’s not in a blue and white jersey.”
He hasn’t made his mark yet, but don’t worry. Johnson’s ready to capture the spotlight.