Will Johnson bided his time.
Eventually, he had to get his shot, but through the first six weeks of the season, it never came. The Oklahoma Sooners junior college transfer cornerback even got down on himself, leaning on his mother, with whom he’s always had a close relationship.
After the debauchery in Dallas that took place a week ago, something had to change. Johnson knew it might be his chance to step up.
In the days leading up to Saturday, Johnson worked with the first-team defense – being tested by Sooners’ receiver Sterling Shepard in good-on-good workouts. In the hours leading up to Oklahoma’s game against Kansas State Wildcats, Johnson felt the natural first-game jitters than come along with getting meaningful snaps for the first time as he made the start at nickel back.
He wasn’t alone, though.
He also wasn’t the only fresh face to make big plays in Oklahoma’s 55-0 victory against Kansas State.
Cornerback Zack Sanchez called Johnson a “real special player.” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said true freshman defensive tackle Marquise Overton was awarded a game ball With Dru Samia and Jonathan Alvarez back in the starting line up on the offensive line, Oklahoma allowed just three sacks – two of which were mistakes by quarterback Baker Mayfield – and averaged 4.6 yards per running back carry.
Oklahoma needed a change, and the one it got couldn’t have been much better.
“They are all steady players,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Our young players are just young. It’s hard getting them in these games. We’ve had a tough stretch of games, all these games. These first six games, there hasn’t been a lot of easy games and getting them experience is hard to do.”
Overton got rave reviews in preseason camp, and with starting defensive tackle Matthew Romar unable to play with a toe injury, Overton had to step up. He had two tackles and a sack. Alvarez had gotten bumped from his starting position in favor of redshirt senior Derek Farniok but aside from allowing the one busted protection, helped an offensive line that looked like it had taken a step forward.
Samia was solid as the right bookend in place of redshirt senior Josiah St. John as Oklahoma opted for a younger front line. Nobody paid attention to Samia, which is always a good thing an offensive lineman. His head coach didn’t even really notice.
“It seemed like Dru did a really good job,” Bob Stoops said after the game.
Then there was Johnson, who allowed Steven Parker to drop to strong safety. Like the rest of the fresh-faced quartet, Johnson proved he belonged very quickly – making a tackle for loss on a bubble screen while fighting off a block in the first quarter.
“Oh man. I can’t even put into words,” Sanchez said. “He’s my player of the game, easily. Waiting his turn, waiting his time, and when it came, finally capitalizing on it. We found a real special player (Saturday) in Will Johnson.”
Johnson’s time came, and he was ready for it. Now, he’ll have three weeks to find out if he’s ready for the test Oklahoma’s secondary has coming in November. Johnson will need to be a big part of that one, too.