I am Iron Man

Having already surpassed the school record for most consecutive starts previously held by Todd Ellis, T.J. Johnson eclipsed the record for most starts in a career previously held by Cliff Matthews in Saturday's loss at Florida. Johnson will extend that streak this week when Carolina hosts Tennessee.

Cue Black Sabbath.

T.J. Johnson is to South Carolina football what Cal Ripken is to baseball. Playing a position where injuries are common and even 100% healthy players wear knee braces, Johnson is the Ironman of Carolina football. After redshirting his first year on campus, Johnson has started every game since. With his start in Saturday's 44-11 loss to Florida, Johnson broke the school record for most starts in a career with 48. Cliff Matthews, the previous record holder, finished his career with 47 starts.

"I'm very thankful that I've been fortunate and blessed to be somewhat healthy my whole career here," Johnson said. "I'm just thankful that I've been given the opportunity."

Playing on the offensive line of a football team is arguably the most brutal position in any sport outside of rugby. 300-pound offensive linemen are colliding with defensive linemen on every snap, some just as big, if not bigger than the offensive lineman. It's common for those bumps and bruises to cost linemen a game or two, but that is not the case for Johnson. Having already shattered Todd Ellis's streak of 43 consecutive starts, Johnson will make it 49 consecutive starts Saturday when the Gamecocks host Tennessee.

"T.J. Johnson has started more games than any other football player in the history of South Carolina," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "That's pretty neat. We told our guys about it today and we haven't had much good to talk about lately. That's neat that he has started more games than anybody."

As all freshmen hope to do, the Aynore native wanted to come in and contribute right away. On the offensive line, especially in the SEC, it is very difficult for a freshman to come in and play off the bat. The coaches did the wise thing with Johnson by sitting him out a year and letting him build up enough strength to be able to block in the SEC.

"Coming in, redshirting was hard for me," Johnson said. "Looking back I'm thankful that I did. I feel like it's helped me a lot, but I wanted to get out and play as much as I can and I had every goal of playing when I got here."

After playing guard his redshirt freshman year, Johnson made the move back to his natural position in 2009 after Garrett Anderson graduated. He has been a staple up front each season since. The last two weeks have been particularly tough on Johnson, who takes pride in the performance of the offensive line. Carolina has not run the ball well at all in its two losses, and even though it was against two exceptional defenses, it doesn't make it any easier for Johnson.

"Just going back and watching film, we've had a lot of missed assignments," Johnson disappointedly said. "I take that as partly my fault because I have to do more to make people better."

Though hopes of an SEC East title have been all but eliminated for Carolina, Johnson has still been a part of a historic run over the past four seasons. In 2010 Carolina played for the SEC Championship for the first time in school history and followed that up with the first ever 11-win season in school history last season that was capped off by beating Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. They have also defeated Georgia three times in a row for the first time in school history, beat Clemson three times in a row for the first time and will look to make it four this season, beat Tennessee twice in a row for the first time in school history and will look to make it three this weekend, and beat Florida in consecutive years for just the second time. Another 10-win season will be the first time the program has had consecutive 10-win seasons. Though his senior season won't end the way he had hoped, Johnson will take pride in what this senior class has accomplished.

"I absolutely take pride in the direction this program is taking," Johnson said. "We're still not there yet and that's something we will work on. It's definitely a fun time to be a Gamecock."


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