Anthony Johnson usually shies away from talking up his game on the field. But coming off one of the top performances at Under Armour’s Orlando-based camp, the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder finally gave himself a pat on the back.
“I think I did awesome,” said Johnson, who was tabbed as one of the most aggressive players during the week of practice prior to last Wednesday’s game, where he recorded a sack. “I went out and proved why I deserve to be the No. 1 ranked defensive tackle in the whole country. The coaches loved me during the practices, and I showed out during the game. It was a super strong performance.”
Johnson, whose nickname “Freak” quickly picked up among his fellow competitors, was double-teamed for most of the night, a situation the O.P. Walker standout has grown used to on Friday nights back in Louisiana.
Typical of Johnson, he had some fun with it.
“I told their linemen all game that they were supposed to be the best of the best, but they still had me on their minds and were trying to make sure to double me all night,” Johnson said. “It was all in good fun, but they knew the deal. I was there to prove I was one of the best in the country, and I showed it.”
Perhaps most impressive was his role on the special teams unit, where he played on kickoff coverage and also blocked the opposition’s winning field goal attempt in the final seconds, though Johnson – who said he only has one speed (full throttle) – was flagged for an illegal blitz on the play.
Just to prove his potential, the 300-pounder also worked at defensive end.
“That was all a blast for me, because those coaches and players didn’t know I had that sort of athleticism,” Johnson said. “At first we were doing reps in practice and they moved me to the outside, and I was coming with some good pass rushes and getting the job done.
“Then gameday rolled around and I wasn’t even going to play on all of the special teams. I just went up to one of the coaches and told him to put me in. I was like, “they don’t call me Freak for nothing. I run a 4.6 and I make plays.” He put me out there after that.”
Back home in New Orleans, Johnson is ready for the final week of the life he’s always known. Next Monday, he’s off to college.
“I enroll at the start of the week, then my first classes will be on Jan. 18,” he said. “I can’t believe the time is finally hear. I’m going to be living with Kenny Hilliard at first, then Jarvis Landry and Alonzo Lewis will move in with us once they get to campus in the summer.”
By enrolling early, Johnson feels he will be on pace to break into a defensive tackle rotation that is already thin on bodies. The Tigers return no starters to the position, and Mike Brockers, Ego Ferguson, Josh Downs, Bennie Logan, Chris Davenport and Johnson will be looked at as candidates for playing time.
“I know that with this six-month head start I will be in a really good spot to start or at least play a lot my first season,” Johnson said. “I look at what coach (Tommy) Moffitt can do with my body in that time, and I feel like I’m going to be stronger and in more shape than ever. Then I’ll have coach (Brick) Haley working with me on my technique off the line. It’s going to be a really good move for me to get in right away like this.”
Now that his high school playing days are officially behind him, Johnson is able to focus on one of his individual achievements that will be around for a while to come.
“I broke both the state and national sack records, and that said a lot about both me and my team,” he said. “I finished with 20 sacks this year and 79 for my career, which broke a national record that Elvis Dumervil used to hold. It was a goal that was always there for me, but it was hard work that allowed me to go get it.”
From the Cotton Bowl to the Miles to Michigan chatter, Johnson – like most recruits – has had his eye on the television.
“First I watched the win over Texas A&M, and the young guys stepping up just showed me that LSU is a team that can win National Championships in the next few years,” he said. “The coaches put all their best players in position to make plays, and that makes me happy to see. Then older guys like Jordan Jefferson stepped up when everyone was watching them. It was a complete effort.
“With all the news reports on Miles, I am just sitting back and watching it play out. I know coach Miles is a family man who will make the best decision for his people. Whatever happens, LSU is LSU. I’m coming over there to represent the state of Louisiana.”