Johnson Preparing for First Bowl Game

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — True freshman Kaleb Johnson won the starting right tackle job early in the season and never surrendered it. As he prepares for his first bowl-game start in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Johnson reflected on his first season at Rutgers with the final game kicking off in two weeks at Yankee Stadium.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. —Recruited as a guard, Kaleb Johnson made multiple freshman All-America teams as a tackle this season as a book-end on an offensive line that halved its sack total from last season.

Johnson started 10 games this season after winning the job from senior Desmond Stapleton. Preparing for his 11th start, Johnson will have more starts as a freshman than either Anthony Davis or Art Forst — the last two true-freshman impact linemen.

"Kaleb's stepped in," said head coach Greg Schiano. "We said early on, ‘I think there is a young guy that can help us.' We planned to do that and he's gotten better and better. He's going to be a very good player — great kid, hard worker."

Awards, starts and recognition were not at the top of Johnson's mind when he arrived at Rutgers in May. Johnson just wanted to play football and do the best he can.

"I didn't expect it, but it was a goal of mine," Johnson said. "I just came in to compete and whatever happens, happens."

For Johnson, football is football. The competition level is higher and there is more to learn at the college level, but those are adjustments he came prepared to make.

With final exams starting next week, time management has been the biggest challenge, Johnson said.

"I wouldn't call it pressure," Johnson said on adjusting to the next level. "I just had to manage my time well, manage my class schedule with film study and things like that."

When there is a football technique to learn, however, Johnson said veteran tackles like Stapleton and Andre Civil are always there for him.

"They're making sure I have my technique right with my kick slides, hand placements and things like that," Johnson said.

Beyond the 2011 season, Rutgers will continue to search for the best five offensive linemen. Depending on the way recruiting finishes, with a top 2012 tackle in play and multiple transfer targets, Johnson's position among the best five remains uncertain.

Schiano said Johnson can play guard or tackle in the future. Johnson, who said during recruiting he would play any position asked of him, has no preference.

"I'm just playing football," Johnson said. "I have no idea."


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