Strong Leg Equals Strong Start for Johnson

One of the Sun Devils' biggest goals for the 2006 season was to shore up a troublesome punting situation. If the season opener is any indication, the punting woes of last season may become a faded memory thanks to JC transfer Jonathan Johnson.

The 6-1 205 Jonathan Johnson, who is one of three transfers on the squad from the College of the Canyons (Calif.), struggled like most newcomers at the beginning of training camp. Having place kicker Jesse Ainsworth improving his punting and laying his claim for the starting punter position, naturally didn't smooth Johnson's path. "I was just trying to get used to everything," he said, "and Jesse is a great punter and he was pushing me the whole time. Towards the end I just became more consistent and did what the coaches want."

Coaches love to preach on how a good practice translates into a good performance on gameday, and Johnson certainly helps reinforce those words. "I was expecting a good game because I practiced well," stated Johnson who had an average of 49.2 yards on four punts. "The coaches were behind me on everything, I had perfect snaps from Jason (Burke), good blocking by the team, and I just did my part."

As productive as practices may be, this All-Western States Conference first-team honoree knows that gameday conditions are almost impossible to duplicate in practice. "It is true because guys in a game will always rush the punter harder than in practice," explained Johnson. "We do practice a lot of special teams and coach will get on players if they're slacking. We try to have practice to look like game experience as much as possible, but it's hard."

Kickers and punters doing considerably less work in practice than the rest of the team, is common not only in the college ranks, but also in the NFL. Johnson and even Ainsworth, break that mold, if nothing else to shed a soft image that players in their roles are labeled with. "Jesse and I participate in some of the non-special team drills," commented Johnson. "I guess I'm trying to show everyone that I'm not just a sissy punter (laughs)."

In preparing for Nevada, the junior doesn't expect to be under duress during punts, but also knows that the Wolfpack are dangerous returning the pigskin. "They don't block the punt too much, but they have a great return game," stated Johnson. "I'm really gonna have to focus on direction and hang time this week and give time for our guys to get down there, like last week."

Despite his own fine performance, Johnson feels that the team's play wasn't up to par against NAU. He knows that matters in that department have to change in a hurry against Nevada. "We definitely look to bounce back from that game," he admitted. "We have to take one game at a time, and remember that whatever was last week was last week, and we have to look forward to this week. We're practicing very well and we're excited to play this week. I think we'll have a good game, and be better than we were last week. That's what we have to do every game."

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