Boy To Man

Ole Miss Defensive End C.J. Johnson earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors for his 6-tackle, one-QB sack performance against Central Arkansas. Read bout his progression from last year to this year inside.

With due respect to boyhood and Ole Miss Defensive End C.J. Johnson, the talented sophomore has left that part of his life behind.

He is now a man. A young man, just a sophomore, but a man nonetheless.

"Overall, C.J. was our best player throughout fall camp," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "He set the tone out there in practice and he set it again in the opener."

Witness his performance during fall camp, where the coaches were frequently calling him "unblockable," and in the opening game of the season, where he played a game worthy of SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.

"I give credit to my teammates and coaches. Without them, it wouldn't have been possible," said Johnson of the first week's award. "We struggled a little bit in the first half, but we made some adjustments and got it right. I did OK. I can do a lot better.

"I can get off the ball a lot faster. For some reason, I wasn't getting off the ball real fast for part of the game. I'll work on that this week. I don't know if I was tight with it being the first game or what, but I'll fix it."

Bigger, stronger, faster and more mature in his understanding of football and what it takes to succeed - that's the 2012 version of C.J. Johnson.

The 2011 version of Johnson wasn't bad, let's get that straight, but this newer model is sleeker, more polished and has sharper fangs.

"Last year, I was just kind of told to go out there and rush the passer. I was young and not very strong and not playing with much technique. I was a boy out there, I guess is a good way to put it," Johnson said.

C.J. Johnson
Ben Garrett

Now, Johnson has reached a comfort level that comes with maturity and being confident in having the right tools for success.

"I'm so much more comfortable than I was last year," he noted. "Working with (Derrick) Burgess, Coach (Chris) Kiffin and Coach (Trae) Scott every day has taught me so much toward learning the techniques. Once you learn the techniques and apply them, there's really no stopping you unless you mentally stop yourself and lose focus."

One aspect of gaining confidence is to mature physically as well.

"(S&C) Coach (Paul) Jackson got me ready. I never really lifted weights a lot, but Coach Jackson has helped me understand the importance. I'm a lot stronger now than I was last year," he said. "I'm not a whole lot bigger, but I'm definitely stronger and more explosive and that - coupled with good technique - is what it's all about."

His mentality is reflective of how the whole team has stepped forward.

"When you go out to practice every day to work and to get better, that's what happens and when that happens, you gain confidence. When you gain confidence, you don't give in and you can face adversity better," he stated. "Last year, we had some selfish moments and now we're gelling as a team and unifying.

"In the locker room Saturday night, we didn't have the same feeling we had last year. We had so much positive energy and some of our leaders were stepping up. It was very positive and to come out in the second half and do what we were supposed to do in a positive way did a lot for this team."

Johnson understands the Central Arksansas game was just a start, a beginning against a foe with lesser ability than most they will face this year.

"We're proud of what we did, the way we hung together, but it was just one game," he continued. "We won't lose our focus. Everyone on this team has won games at some level of their career - we can't make it into more than it was, as fun as it was.

"We have come to work on Tuesday and keep grinding and getting better."

UTEP presents another challenge for this rebuilding and growing team, as Johnson readily admits.

"We're pretty physical guys, but we'll have to get more and more physical as the year progresses, starting with this week against UTEP. I just got through watching their film against Oklahoma and they'll come right at us with 11 and 12 personnel packages, plus they're capable of throwing it all over the yard," he said.

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