Johnson starting to realize potential

Redshirt sophomore Keelan Johnson has always had the ability to become a great player. In high school Johnson was a two-way player who excelled as a running back on the offensive end, and used his superior athleticism at defensive back. At ASU it's the later role that has him excelling these days in fall camp as he becomes an integral part of a strong Sun Devil secondary unit.

Originally committing to Nebraska, Johnson ended up choosing ASU for the chance to play on the offensive side of the ball. While that never came to fruition, his patience has paid off as he now has a chance to start for the school he grew up 20 minutes away.

"He's been a pleasant surprise," Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson said. "We really thought going into camp ‘where are we secondary wise'? We found out that we are pretty good.

"Keelan is so fast – he's a corner playing safety is what he is. He gets to the ball and makes plays and of course he had some experience last year. We'll see but in practice he's doing well."

Entering his third year, Johnson is in position to start opposite Clint Floyd at the free safety position on a quick and powerful defense that should be the key to the Sun Devils' resurgence.

"Camp is going great," Johnson stated. "The safety position is improving dramatically. You can tell in our run support and pass coverage. "The way our competition is going, you have to watch your back 24/7. Our 2's are playing well and our 3's are playing well and with them playing well the starters have to play well. I'm grateful I have the opportunity to come in starting.

"We have a lot of great players on this defense and our safety play is a lot easier when we have those linebackers with the speed up front, so we can play pass first and not have to worry much about the run."

Johnson has paid his dues over his first two years competing in practice, and on special teams, but he knows that he wouldn't be the player that he is today without those experiences.

"If you look at special teams, it's defense basically," Johnson admitted, "and I have a passion for playing defense so I have a passion for playing special teams. It's a privilege to play special teams; they pick the best 11 guys on the team and try to make a big play."

Growing up in Mesa, Johnson has a lot of family in East Valley and will have plenty of supporters in the stands making the trek to Tempe wearing #10 Sun Devil jerseys.

"It's really great," Johnson commented. "My brother and sister both look up to me; I'm the oldest child, and my sister is wearing #10 now, but I'm the first one to go to college so I think that really motivates her to do well in school and my brother as well. Plus, the guys that I went to school with are still around, they still follow me and they're glad I chose to stay here and not go to Nebraska."

And although his high school days are long behind him, Johnson admits that he still thinks about carrying the rock like he did back when he was a Mesa High Jackrabbit.

"I definitely still want to (carry the ball)," Johnson stressed, "that's why I hope they put me back at kick return so I can flash my moves and what-not. The thought still crosses my mind to get in there and score a touchdown or two."

Though the opportunities are fewer and far between on the defensive side, Johnson should have some chances to take a few to the house and put aside about his dream of carrying the ball. Helping him make those plays is junior safety Clint Floyd who is a good compliment to Johnson due to his experience from last year.

"It's just a one-two punch," Johnson pointed out, "you can't have one punch without the other, and sometimes Clint and I get together to watch film and compliment each other, but criticize when we do wrong."

Johnson may soon be reaching his potential and it should make for one good safety roaming the defensive backfield for the maroon and gold.

"I came in with the opportunity to play receiver as well and I came to the defensive side, didn't really understand it," Johnson admitted, "I lost confidence after a game or two I played in where I struggled, and I think now I'm ready to play and make plays.

"I always have people tell me that I can be a great NFL safety, I have the tools, the potential to do it, and it's just a mindset next."

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