CHICAGO — Jeremiah Johnson’s first trip to Chicago was really an exercise in reflection, a chance for the Maryland senior cornerback to fully realize how he got to Big Ten Media Days in the first place.
Maryland was the first school to offer Johnson at the end of his junior season at Suitland, when he was just a skinny 155-pound safety looking for a football future. His recruiter was none other than former Maryland assistant James Franklin, now the Penn State head coach who was one of the main attractions with the media this week in Chicago.
Johnson said he got a chance to see Franklin during Tuesday morning’s roundtable meetings with reporters, but his focus quickly turned to the upcoming season. Football has been cruel to Johnson over the past year, derailing a chance to build upon a promising sophomore campaign in 2012 in which he started all 12 games at corner led the team in pass breakups. He suffered a toe injury and played in just two games last year, then missed most of the spring with a hamstring injury.
“I think the one good thing came out of [the injuries], was last year a lot of younger guys had an opportunity to come play on the field. So I think the secondary is one of our more experienced groups on the field,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited for that. There’s going to be a lot of competition in camp. That’s how you want it to be.”
The past year hasn’t been the first bit of adversity for Johnson, who said he was deeply affected by the passing of his high school coach, Nick Lynch, after his junior season at Suitland. Maryland was the only school he wanted to consider, he said, a chance to stay close to home and represent where he came from. He’s flourished on the field (Edsall named Johnson to the team’s leadership council last season) and off the field, where he he’s expressed his dreams through poetry readings on campus.
There was little made about Johnson being listed as a backup corner when the preseason depth chart was released last week. Maryland Coach Randy Edsall, who calls Johnson “a coach on the field,” said the decision was made based on Johnson’s absence from the field for much of last fall and spring. Now fully healthy and one of only two seniors at defensive back, he’s still expected to be one of the team’s cornerstones on defense.
His breakout sophomore season spoke to what he is capable of; a physical player (he had 43 tackles and five for loss that season) who can excel in pass coverage (he averaged .67 pass breakups in the ACC in 2012). Getting back to that form is at the forefront as he prepares for the opening of camp on Monday.
“These past two months have just been a straight grind. I feel the best that I’ve felt in a year,” Johnson said. “Coming into my senior year man, I’m just blessed to have another opportunity because that could have been my last year. A lot of people don’t get an opportunity to come back, and I do, so I’m definitely looking for it.”