Georgia Tech freshman safety Isaiah Johnson had to earn his jersey number -- No. 1. It was previously worn by Morgan Burnett, who left early to begin his NFL career. As a freshman at Sandy Creek High in Tyrone, Ga., Johnson used to watch Burnett play at nearby North Clayton High School as a senior.
“I always looked up to him,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to follow his path.”
He’s literally off to a good start.
As the Jackets prepare to open the season Saturday against South Carolina State, Johnson is not only still wearing the jersey, he’s also expected to start it in. The coaches let him keep it after they saw his effort and improvement throughout the summer. He is listed as No. 1 on the depth chart at safety, and could be the first true freshman to start a season opener since Tyler Melton in 2008. Prior to Melton, the last true freshman to start the first game of the season was wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2004 and quarterback Reggie Ball in 2003.
Because he knew Burnett was leaving early for the NFL, Johnson chose to enroll early.
“I knew my chances of playing would be greater,” he said. “It’s always been my goal. That’s what I’ve been working towards.”
Johnson is one of five true freshmen listed on Georgia Tech’s depth chart, along with A-back B.J. Bostic, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, CB Louis Young and DT Shawn Green.
The most difficult part of adapting to the college game, Johnson said, has been taking on blocks from his own offensive teammates.
“Georgia Tech is different,” he said. “Going against our offense, they throw a whole lot of chop blocks. Taking on the blocks has been a challenge for me, and trying to make a play off the blocks. At first I was running up wild, full speed. You have to learn how to slow it down, make sure I was doing my right assignment, not just running wild. It’s good to play fast, but it’s better to play fast and smart.”
It’s a good way to stay No. 1.