Four games in to the 2011 season, the struggles of the Kansas defense have been well-documented.
Ranking at or near the bottom of the conference in virtually every defensive statistical category, it's been tough sledding thus far for defensive coordinator Vic Shealy and his squad.
As a result, it can be easy for fans and media members alike to take Steven Johnson for granted. The senior linebacker – one of the few returning starters from the 2010 season on the defensive side of the ball – has logged double-digit tackles in all but one contest to date, and is in fact currently leading the Big 12 with an average of 10.8 tackles per game.
"He's improved, I think, in a lot of ways," Head Coach Turner Gill said Wednesday, during his weekly press conference. "Just physically, and I think understanding the game. I think Coach (Vance) Singletary and Coach Shealy have done a great job of talking to him, teaching him what needs to get done and how it needs to get done."
Saturday, the Jayhawks defense began to show signs of life; forcing as many three-and-outs versus Texas Tech as they had in the previous three games combined, and recording their first turnover - an interception by freshman safety Keeston Terry.
Johnson continued his stellar play, logging 12 tackles including seven solo.
His success is a testament to the value of hard work, as he arrived at Kansas in 2008 a preferred walk-on, hailing from Media (PA) Strath Haven High School. He eventually earned a scholarship, and last season locked down a spot in the starting rotation as an outside linebacker, where he recorded a team-leading 95 tackles.
As impressive as he's been on the field, the example Johnson sets off it may be just as valuable to the team. Gill cited him as one of the hardest workers in all phases of a student-athlete's life, including in the classroom.
"Steve is a leader," the second-year head coach said. "He's a very good player and has done a lot of good things for us. I think he's going to be a guy that I would hope would get recognized in the Big 12 as one of the top linebackers around."
"I think he's going to be a guy that really, I think, has got a lot of good football ahead of him," Gill added. "I really do. I thin people don't see that, and I think he'll have some opportunities - hopefully - at the next level."