On the eve of spring practice, receiver Ronald Johnson is being counted on to be the No. 1 receiver for the Trojans this season. Johnson was expected to be USC's deep threat last season opposite former receiver Damian Williams, only to break his collarbone in a freak accident at the end of fall camp, one week before the season was start to start. After returning at Notre Dame, Johnson totaled 34 catches for 378 yards for the season, but he was largely kept under wraps. Now, the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster is at full strength and ready to begin preparation for the 2010 season. We caught up with him over the weekend.
Question: Spring practice starts Tuesday. You're excited, I assume. Describe your feelings just as everything’s about to start.
Ronald Johnson: I just can’t wait. I feel like I’m just at the peak of my game, and I can’t wait to show it.
Q: Some have said the team may have lacked leadership last season. Do you think you can fill a possible leader role on this year's team?
RJ: I’m definitely ready for it. I’m a senior now, and I have to be more vocal. I’m stepping up to that, because I’ve been more of a lead-by-example person before.
Q: Not only does this week feature the beginning of spring practice, but Wednesday's also Pro Day at USC. What are you thinking when you see guys like Damian working out with tons of NFL scouts and coaches in attendance?
RJ: In a thing like that, I’ll just sit back and watch the good things that he’s doing and the bad things so that I can learn from them. I kinda picture myself in that situation, running my routes and catching every ball, running down the field to catch the ball, little things like that.
Q: Speaking of pro scouts and all — now, the injury obviously derailed your plans, but had you ever thought about declaring for the draft after last season?
RJ: It definitely was on my mind, leaving in three years. Last year, coming right up to the season, I felt like I couldn’t be stopped and I was one of the best. But then I got injured and things changed and I feel like it was just God telling me to get my degree and graduate.
Q: You made news this offseason with claims that you would win the Heisman Trophy in 2010. Do you think that's a realistic opportunity?
RJ: I feel like it’s a possibility. That’s one of the goals I want to achieve — getting the Heisman, not only for myself but also for my teammates.
Q: You guys have a lot of new assistant coaches, but I've heard a lot of praise about new strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus. Personally, how are you adjusting to Ausmus' teachings in the weight room?
RJ: It’s definitely benefiting me. This guy is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met, as far as a weight-training coach. I talk to him almost every day. He pumps me up and gets me ready. Everything he’s teaching us is on point. I can’t wait to explode like I’m supposed to because of the training he has us doing.
Q: Obviously there was a coaching change at the top, but how much do you feel Lane Kiffin’s offense will allow you to develop and showcase yourself as a receiver?
RJ: He told me from the jump that he gave the ball to Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith like 90 times in one year. And I’m like, “Wow, I can get the ball 90 times in one year?” I just feel like I’m blessed to be in this situation right now.
Q: You finished the 2009 season 9-4 — obviously not what you expected. Since the season ended in December, have you ever replayed certain moments and/or games in your head and regretted a thing or two?
RJ: I think about it every day. I try to get it out of my mind, so I don’t have to think about it, but I can’t. I think it could have been totally different.
Q: Before you get to spring practice, you first had to go through all of the spring workouts and whatnot. In those, you got to observe kind of the first USC practices for guys like Kyle Prater and Dillon Baxter. Your thought process behind seeing them in workouts?
RJ: First of all, it makes me feel old when these guys come in here. But, these guys, they’re both competitive. I like the energy they’re bringing, and I took them under my wing and let them know what it takes to be in the position that I’m in right now. Those guys are definitely ahead of the game.
Q: You have said in the past that you weren’t really able to develop an on-field relationship with Matt Barkley last year, partly because of injury, until late in the season. Have you had the opportunity to this offseason?
RJ: Yes. I go out with Barkley, I text him, I call him. I try to do every little thing just to get that connection, to be around that guy and understand the things that he does and the things that I do. He should know me like a book now.
Q: Is it ever hard for you to not think about the injury and not feel a tentative on the field?
RJ: As of now, I don’t really think about it any more. If my technique’s like it’s supposed to be and my timing with the quarterback is like it’s supposed to be, then I won’t have any problems. I’m just working on my technique to the point where I know where everybody is on the field.
Q: Lastly, more than anything else, what would you say you're excited about this season?
RJ: I'm looking for nothing but fun. If the Heisman comes, it comes. If the national championship comes, it comes. I'm just looking to have a full year under my belt and an exciting season with teammates I'm going to be leaving after this season. I just want to have fun with these guys.
Johnson and the Trojans open up spring practice Tuesday at 4 p.m., with 15 practices over the next month before the May 1 Trojan Huddle.