All-Time Greatest – No. 40: Pepper Johnson

BuckeyeSports.com counts down the days until Ohio State's 2008 season opener with its list of the 50 greatest Buckeyes of all-time. The series continues today with No. 40: linebacker Thomas "Pepper" Johnson.

Usually lost in discussions of the best-ever linebacker at Ohio State, Thomas "Pepper" Johnson always let his hard-hitting performance on the field do the talking for him off the field.

Born July 29, 1964, Johnson was already a 6-3, 216-pound terror at MacKenzie High School in Detroit when he joined the Buckeyes for the 1982 season.

He earned all-state honors as a senior and was named to several prep All-America teams, but football wasn't his only love. In fact, he was the team captain of his high school's football, basketball and baseball teams.

Nicknamed "Pepper" by an aunt who observed him regularly sprinkling pepper on his breakfast cereal, Johnson eased into his Ohio State career, seeing action in seven games for the Buckeyes as a freshman and logging just six tackles.

The following season, he burst into the lineup and totaled 92 tackles, then exploded as a junior and senior.

In the 1984 and '85 seasons, Johnson teamed with Chris Spielman to give the Buckeyes one of the most awesome one-two linebacker punches in college football history.

Johnson topped 140 tackles in each of his last two seasons and was voted the team's defensive most valuable player both years. Earning All-America honors as a senior, he was also voted as one of the team captains in both his junior and senior seasons, making him the last Buckeye to have that distinction before Steve Bellisari and Joe Cooper did it in 2000 and 2001.

After completing his OSU career, Johnson was a second-round selection in the 1986 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Earning a reputation as one of the league's most feared hitters, Johnson anchored a Giants defense that won Super Bowl championships in 1986 and 1990.

He was a two-time Pro Bowler and spent 13 seasons in the NFL with the Giants, Browns, Lions and Jets. During a six-year stretch from 1990-95, Johnson never missed a game and averaged more than 112 tackles per season.

In 1999, Ohio State named Johnson to its all-century team. Two years later, he was inducted into the OSU Athletic Hall of Fame.

Since 2000, he has been an assistant coach for the New England Patriots, first with linebackers and now with the defensive line, and has won three more Super Bowl rings with that team.

Johnson's son, Dionte, played four seasons at fullback for Ohio State from 2004-07, and when the younger Johnson was voted team co-captain for the '07 season, it made the Johnsons only the third father-son combination in school history to serve as captains. The others are Jim (1960) and Kirk Herbstreit (1992) and James (1964) and Jeff Davidson (1989).

The list so far:

No. 41 Paul Warfield

No. 42 Tim Spencer

No. 43 Cornelius Greene

No. 44 Mike Sensibaugh

No. 45 Will Smith

No. 46 John Frank

No. 47 Jim Otis

No. 48 Ike Kelley

No. 49 Chris Ward

No. 50 Michael Jenkins

Tomorrow: No. 39


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