Life Events Will Benefit Nick Johnson

Being an understudy of Terrell Suggs, and being involved in an off the field altercation seem anything but similar occurrences. However, the common thread is one that Nick Johnson clearly realizes – life in and away from football offers numerous lessons crucial for all around success. DevilsDigest talked to the sophomore about his feelings regarding the off-season, as well as the prospects for himself and the team.

The defensive end is happy that the pre-season, especially in light of his legal troubles has come to a close, and that the regular season kick-off is nearing. "I can't wait for the season to start. Just being out there again with all the guys, and being a family again for a few months until January when we're done – yes, I said, J-A-N-U-A-R-Y (smile)."

Johnson admitted that he gained a few pounds in recent months, but didn't increase his speed. Nevertheless, that's not to say that he's content with his athleticism right now. "4.5 isn't fast enough. I don't know if I want to be fast like Chris McKenzie (who runs a 4.1), but I want to be wide receiver fast (smile)."

It has been very fashionable among the various media outlets to predict that the Sun Devils defense will struggle mightily in 2003 without the services of Terrell Suggs, and three senior linebackers. The sophomore along with his teammates, are eager to silence the naysayers. "We're all coming in hungry and ready to go. We want to prove that we can do it, even without one of the best defensive ends in the country last year. We want to put pressure on the quarterback and help our back end. Losing Terrell is huge, but we're gonna come ready to work."

The local Chandler High School product doesn't expect the defense to revamp itself in light of all the personnel losses. After all, if isn't broken you shouldn't fix it. "Our defense won't change. Our scheme put Terrell in positions to make good plays. Of course he made some plays on his own, but the defense was there for him to make plays too. If we play well and stick to our scheme and stick to our assignments we'll be all right."

The off-season saw Nick Johnson get into an altercation with now departed fellow linemen Ricky Parker. Johnson is practicing with the team, but his availability for the first couple of games this year remains in question, while the legal process takes its course. Johnson realizes that a valuable lesson, albeit in a harsh manner, was learned. "As far as that whole thing, it was a big mistake. I already learned from it way too much. I'm still learning from it...I never stopped learning. Everyday I think about it I go ‘wow'; it could have ended way too worse. I could be one of those guys that people would say about him ‘He could have been this or done that, and he threw it all away.' I don't wanna be one of those guys." Even though some players may turn an incident like this as the ultimate season long motivator, the defensive end prefers other channels. "It's not about that. What happened to me just has to teach me a lesson, not motivate me. I get my inspiration watching my teammates go out there and play hard as they can, so I can do the same."

Despite a promising freshman year and the whispers about his ability to pick up some of Suggs' production, Johnson is not one to buy into the hype. In fact, his self-assessment is quite humbling. "I don't want to disappoint myself and the coaches. I want to be a better run stopper, as well as playing the tight end better. I don't see pass rush as being a problem, but being consistent is a whole other thing. I have to play every down as hard as I can. If I don't do all those things, I can't be the best player I can be."

Whether fans want to call him the next Terrell Suggs ("I can't help that") or just another talented up and coming player, doesn't make much difference as to what's important to Johnson. "I know our defensive line will be great. We always work hard to get better. We know we can't replace Terrell, but everybody can step it up a little bit and take as swat at it. We can all put up the same numbers of sacks that Terrell had. Our defense is about 11 guys being on the same page and getting the job done. Fancy stats won't always get the job done, but teamwork will."

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