Hope you enjoyed our story on Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson today as part of the Big 12 preview. Check it out if you haven't already. But lots and lots of good stuff didn't make it in the story. Here's the best of the rest, plus a few observations and thoughts from my visit to College Station.
Johnson studied kinesiology and education, and as part of the curriculum, he had to spend six weeks last semester as a P.E. teacher at a local elementary school. That is exactly as awesome as it sounds. "Those kids wore me out more than any football practice could," Johnson said. Kids would roll through every half hour to 45 minutes, and Johnson would see about 80-90 kids per day from kindergarten to fourth grade. Some of the kids only knew their new P.E. teacher as "Mr. Johnson," but plenty knew they were getting primo instruction from the quarterback for Texas A&M. "Some of the kindergarteners knew, because they'd come in and say, 'My dad wants to know who our new defensive coordinator wants to be,'" Johnson said. "I'm like, you can't even spell 'defensive coordinator.'"
Johnson admitted he came into fall practice a little rusty, but part of his early struggles came because of an improving defense, he says. "It just fits our personnel so much better," Johnson said of the new 3-4 scheme. "The last two years, we've been trying to recruit all these athletic linebackers because in the Big 12 you see so many spread offenses, and your linebackers have to be your strength. They have to be big enough to defend the run but agile enough to play in the secondary."
He's the team's unquestioned leader, but Johnson might not know just how true that is, according to Von Miller. "He’s the man. I don’t think Jerrod knows how much I look up to him and his leadership qualities and skills," Miller said. "I’m a leader on this team too, but he’s my leader. I look to Jerrod for advice and all that stuff. He’s been a leader for a couple years and this is my first time getting a taste of this. I watch the way he handles himself and deals with situations and I try to do that, too."
In response to today's report in the Houston Chronicle about Johnson not being 100 percent healed from the offseason shoulder surgery, that would certainly support what I saw in practice on Friday. Johnson was plenty accurate, but it was my first time getting to see him up close going full speed, and compared to others I've seen like Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin, who I got a close look at on Tuesday, the velocity on his ball when he's trying to whip it in through traffic was significantly lower than the others I just named. My assumption is that will change, and he's got a few warm-up games to do it until the Aggies travel to Stillwater, but we'll see how he looks in October.
Texas A&M's receivers have size that might be unrivaled across the conference. Jeff Fuller is obviously the big name at a very legitimate 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, but the Aggies also have senior Terrence McCoy (6-foot-4, 211), freshman Nate Askew (6-foot-4, 223) and backup quarterback/receiver Ryan Tannehill (6-foot-4, 216). They should all be contributors this year, and the Aggies also have the more normal-sized Uzoma Nwachukwu, Kenric McNeal and Ryan Swope. A really nice mix of guys that have the best case as the deepest corps in the conference.
As a fifth-year senior, Johnson takes it upon himself to show the younger players how to adjust to the college game. One of the biggest pieces of advice he gives them is to read as little as possible about themselves, namely on message boards. "You can't control what people say about you or what people’s opinions are of you. Just live the way you think you should live and do what you can do and that’s all you can control," Johnson said. "If you start worrying about and trying to control things you can't control, you'll drive yourself crazy."
He also makes sure they understand what it means to be a college athlete, and specifically, a college athlete at Texas A&M. "This school is going to give you so much. It'll give you an education, put your name out there and people are going to want to hire you but you have to make sure you get just as much out of the school as the school is going to get from you," he said. "It’s gonna get touchdowns, and they’ll make money off you filling up the stands. But it also makes you get friends, contacts and memories. Engulf yourself in Texas A&M and you’ll benefit just as much as the school will benefit from you. I preach that to everybody."
Not as many players and coaches had actually seen Jerrod's karaoke performance blowing up on YouTube, currently pushing over 26,000 views. Word had spread that it was shown on local TV, but plenty of guys hadn't seen the actual video yet.