Personal Plight

C.J. Johnson almost signed with Mississippi State.


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He committed to the Bulldogs in October of 2009. In two years time, he's switched his commitment to Ole Miss, signed with the Rebels in February and is in line to play in his first ever Egg Bowl Saturday at 6 p.m.

His recruitment was widely followed. There were countless Facebook messages from opposing fans, each calling for Johnson to sign with their particular school. When he chose Ole Miss, he heard from both sides -- the good and the bad. When the interactions turned ugly, Johnson left Facebook.

He became a national story. Sports Illustrated and ESPN, among others, wrote stories of what happened. Johnson said the team has taken the same approach to the game as other weeks. However, he admitted Saturday carries a little more weight for him.

"Up here at Ole Miss, we prepare for every game like it's a big game," Johnson, whose team is 2-9 overall and 0-7 in SEC play, said. "Kind of on a personal note, it's kind of personal."

Johnson was rated a four-star recruit. He was arguably the most coveted player in Mississippi.

In his debut season, he has made gradual progress. He saw very little playing time in the first half of the season, but has since been moved to defensive end, even earning his first career start against Louisiana Tech two weeks ago.


C.J. Johnson
Chuck Rounsaville

"He's about one of 10 of those guys at that age (who are playing), but he's probably come the furthest because he had to switch positions," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said.

"He's so unselfish, just a tremendous person and he's been playing hard. I've been really proud of the way he's played as a true freshman."

Johnson came up with the idea to move to defensive end. He may have found a permanent home. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Johnson was rated the No. 4 middle linebacker by Scout.com.

"I'm just here to play," Johnson said. "Whatever coach asks me to play, I'm going to get down and play it to the best of my ability."

"I think so," Nutt said, when asked if Johnson could stick at defensive end. "That's not to say he can't play linebacker, but I think with his body frame, the way he can put on (weight), probably could be very good there."

Nutt won't return as Ole Miss head coach in 2012, as announced Nov. 7. The news was understandably hard on the freshmen. The coaching search, led by a five-member search committee, is now in its third week.

"It's been hard," Johnson said. "Life's full of adversity, so all we can do is take this and grow from it and become a better group."

Johnson has played in 10 games. He's totaled 22 tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack. More than anything, however, he's emerged as a vocal leader for the team, especially the freshmen class.

"He's adjusted very well. I think he's gotten better, more comfortable with each game," Nutt said. "I know the first couple of games it was sure new to him and he was probably uncomfortable. Didn't act like it, and he studied the position and he's gotten better fundamentally. Gives us some pass rush. I'm proud of him."


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