Good so Far but Better Things Ahead

Two weeks ago at Auburn, Mississippi State's Anthony Johnson finally found something that was missing. And the sophomore cornerback's first career interception couldn't have come in a better spot for the Bulldogs. Johnson's theft was one of two State picked off from Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox, which helped State jump to a 13-0 lead.

"I came into the season just wanting to be successful and play every play I could," noted Johnson. "I wanted to play every play like it was my last play. Then I wound up getting my first pick and now I want one every game."

In his first season as the starter, Anthony Johnson has been consistent in his new role. The Jackson native ranks fourth on the team with 21 tackles and his interception and two pass break-ups are tied for team honors.

However, Johnson's chance to get another pick in Saturday's win over Gardner-Webb was dampered. Flu-like symptoms kept Johnson off the practice field and his snaps were limited against Gardner-Webb. Johnson wasn't in the starting lineup and saw spot duty on special teams and in the secondary.

"That was bad," said Johnson. "I had 102 temperature all week and my body was killing me. But I managed to play a little, getting some action on kickoffs. That was good enough for me, especially the shape I was in. But now I feel great."

Which is good news for State's defense.

Since the season-opening setback to LSU, Johnson and his defensive mates have become accustomed to making big plays. The three-game winning streak has featured five interceptions from the Bulldogs' defense, including three returned for scores.

"We know it is our job to keep the offenses down, stay fundamentally sound and do what the coaches tell us," said Johnson. "You do all that and you will be fine. We are not even at the mid-point of the season yet and we know we can go far this year. But we can not play selfish football. We have to play as a team and everybody has to do their job on every play. We have gotten confidence over time but that can't take away from our focus for the whole season."

State entered the season with both corners unfamiliar with starting on the so-called 'island'. Along with fellow sophomore classmate Marcus Washington, Johnson took over the duties left behind due to the graduation of David Heard and Derek Pegues' move to safety. However, Johnson has used every bit of cornerback advice available, which includes discussions with Pegues.

"We always talk about playing cornerback," said Johnson of his talks with Pegues. "That has helped me a lot. Derek lets me know when to gamble on certain plays but to make sure I let him know when I am going to gamble. He teaches us how to react to the ball and get there quicker."

Johnson has also picked up tips from former Bulldog cornerbacks and fellow Provine graduates.

The Provine-State cornerback pipeline started with current Washington Redskins' corner Fred Smoot and continued with Quinton Culberson, who eventually turned into an All-SEC linebacker.

"It's just something where you see one of us coming from (Provine High School) and everyone expects us to hold up that trend," said Johnson. "I always go back and ask for advice from (Culberson and Smoot) and we still all talk. I have gotten great tips from them, on and off the field."

After an honor-filled prep career at Provine, Johnson faced a little detour before continuing the pipeline. Johnson spent the 2005 fall semester at Hargrave (Virginia.) Military Academy. While he always loved putting on his football pads, it was another type of uniform that didn't exactly fit well.

"I had to get used to wearing that military uniform every day," said Johnson. "I didn't want to wear it but we had to wear it every day. It was tough, doing things you didn't like. But you had to because it was part of the rules. But overall, it was a great experience for me. I did get to face some big receivers and it helped to better myself, on and off the field. That is where I started preparing to start in the SEC."

Although the overall talent didn't paint the same picture of SEC football, Johnson used the time to work on his individual game.

"I went there to get my ACT test up and to prepare myself to play college football," said Johnson. "I knew the speed of the game and size of the players was not going to be quite what I would face at Mississippi State. So I really used that semester to work on my techniques and my speed so I could be ready when I came into the SEC."

The early exit from Hargrave also gave Johnson a rare opportunity for true freshmen. He got to experience spring practice and take his time with the playbook.

Johnson capped off his initial spring with an interception in the spring game.

"Coming in the spring of 2006 gave me a leg up for the fall," said Johnson. "I had the chance to learn the defense better and to be better all around. Plus, it gives you time to adjust to college life and that aspect. It is a big change from high school and Hargrave, and it's not just football that changes."

Two years later and the changes have started to diminish for Johnson. He's made the smoot transition into his starting role and the Bulldog' defense has shown no letdown from last year's solid group of defenders.

But there is one major change that Johnson has witnessed four games into the 2007 campaign.

"I believe we are more of a unit than 11 individuals now," said Johnson. "We all have each other's backs and if we make a mistake, we just move on and get ready for the next play, not dwelling on the past mistake.

"We worked hard all summer and we put it in our minds we wanted to be one of the top defenses in the SEC. I believe we are going to do that."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at pdjmsu@yahoo.com.


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