There are a number of things you can point toward in terms of what helped Oklahoma exceed preseason expectations in 2015 to earn a berth in the four-team college football playoff.
It’s not the first thing that comes to mind, but there’s no doubt the level of play of nickelback Will Johnson has to be up there.
Arriving to Norman from Monroe (N.Y.) CC, Johnson made a splash when he was given a chance to be the starting nickelback for the second half of the season.
Originally from Baltimore, Johnson always had that bond with fellow Baltimore native, Charles Tapper. And there’s no doubt Johnson is a grown man, but it’s understandable if it might feel a little weird to be in Norman without Tapper by his side.
“That’s a good question to ask because I was just thinking about that,” Johnson said. “I was kind of down when thinking about him leaving. But you have football, you have your school work, it keeps you going. Add in him being in Dallas and that isn’t too far away. I’ve already been down there a couple of times.”
Johnson’s productivity in his role gave OU more options to what it could do with its secondary and showed what Kerry Cooks has been preaching – own and embrace your role.
Johnson’s role sure seems like it’s going to be a little bit different in 2016. He’s still got his skills from last year, but it seems clear he’s going to be asked to help out more in run support and get closer to the line of scrimmage.
Heading into spring, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops essentially inserted Johnson into that role. Never one to back down, Johnson has accepted the role and transition as smooth as possible.
He’s almost at 200 pounds, but the lack of size won’t be a problem for Johnson although he will be going up against offensive tackles north of 300 pounds. He comes from Baltimore, and he knows a lot about beating the odds.
“My motivation is where I come from,” Johnson said. “It’s never over for me. I’m still in the doghouse. As far as life, I’m winning right now, but I have to keep fighting. On the field, off the field, the fight never ends.”