The interception came in the third quarter, on a second-and-nine play, the result of a good break and a better read.
Fresno State cornerback Johnny Johnson described it that simply and left out the things that make a play like that anything but easy – the film study, picking apart an offense play by play, or the extra work every week in practice.
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“I was just doing my job and I mean, the ball was thrown to me,” he said. “I was able to get a break and thankfully I caught it.”
I think it’s important to be an example, because it’s easy for people to go out and be successful and then they don’t ever come back to their community. I just try to do the best that I’m able to and try to be an example for everybody.
Fresno State cornerback Johnny Johnson
Johnson, the former Central High standout and graduate transfer from UCLA, didn’t dress it up. He threw it. I caught it. But that feeling, to be back in his hometown, wearing the red and white that his father, Johnny Johnson Sr., wore for Fresno State teams that shared conference championships in 1992 and ’93, that was something.
“It’s always excellent to be back home,” he said.
For Johnson, the 14 tackles in the books through the first four games of the season and that interception last week in the Bulldogs’ 41-21 victory over Nevada is only a small part of the picture, and what he has added to a program that is trying to reestablish itself as a credible player in the Mountain West Conference.
Graduate transfers can be a hit or a miss to varying degrees. Fresno State has had a few these past few seasons, with only fair-to-middling production from any of them. But Johnson, who has returned home with degree in hand after attending a bigger school in a brighter conference, has been a perfect fit.
“I think it’s easy to say it’s great to have that experience and a guy who has been through it and played at a nationally recognized program like UCLA,” defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer said. “But sometimes you get guys in that maybe can play, but they’re not a fit. A lot of people just like to judge on the three hours they see on Saturday, but maybe there are struggles in the classroom, there are struggles in the locker room.
“Johnny, first of all, is a good man. He’s a good student. He has the tools to be a great athlete. He came in, bought into the system. I think he has helped some of the younger guys. I think he has helped with some of the stuff we never know about as coaches, putting out fires in the locker room, picking people’s spirits up. That’s what Johnny has brought.”
Most days Johnson is the last player off the practice field; some days he is there long after the Bulldogs have wrapped for the day.
“He’s a mature guy,” said coach Jeff Tedford, who also hit it big with graduate transfer quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who will make his second start for the Bulldogs on Saturday in a Mountain West game at San Jose State.
“He understands the difference of what to takes to be successful, so he puts in the time. He’s a student of the game. He works hard. It means something to him.”
You can’t speak enough to his character. He’s an awesome kid.
Fresno State defensive backs coach J.D. Williams on Johnny Johnson
There have been players who have gravitated to that, whether or not they’re in the defensive backs’ room. Second or third day of fall camp, sophomore wideout Derrion Grim, like Johnson new to the program, pulled him aside during practice.
“I just called him over and he just loves doing extra work after practice so I was just like, ‘Hey, is it cool if we work on releases?’ He said, ‘Absolutely,’ and ever since we work on it any time we have time to do them,” Grim said. “He talks me through my releases, talks me through what DBs do, so it’s a lot of help.
“He’s a guy that I can talk to during practice, after practice. We’ll be in the middle of practice and he’ll get me on a route and we’ll both laugh about it, I’ll get him on a route and we’ll both laugh about it. Then we’ll both go watch film and talk about what we did what we did good and what we did bad within that play.”
That can be an important part in where the Bulldogs (2-2, 1-0) get to this season and over the next few years as Tedford continues a rebuild of the football program.
He understands the difference of what to takes to be successful, so he puts in the time. He’s a student of the game. He works hard. It means something to him.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
Back home again, Johnson has a lot in play. But he sees the positives in putting all of the pieces together.
There is one last season of college football, a chance to earn a graduate degree, to be a positive influence in his community and to turn around a program that after winning back-to-back Mountain West championships in 2012-13 has stumbled from 6-8 to 3-9 to last season’s 1-11..
“I think it’s important to be an example, because it’s easy for people to go out and be successful and then they don’t ever come back to their community,” Johnson said. “I just try to do the best that I’m able to and try to be an example for everybody.
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity. Being an athlete you already have all eyes on you. I did come back home. I was born here. I’m in awe of that. I’m doing the best that I can do be a positive influence on people.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT SAN JOSE STATE
- Saturday: 4:30 p.m. at CEFCU Stadium (30,456)
- Records: Bulldogs 2-2, 1-0 Mountain West; Spartans 1-5, 0-2
- Webcast/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Spartans are off to a slow start under first-year coach Brent Brennan, opening the season 1-5 including a Mountain West loss on Saturday night at UNLV. That one victory came against Cal Poly, a championship subdivision program. San Jose State is ranked last in the conference in scoring offense (15.8 ppg) and scoring defense (44.5 ppg).