While Johnson saw snaps in the first half of the season, he was not a major factor in the defensive line rotation. With an injury to John Raymon against Georgia Tech, Johnson's role changed. The Orange coaching staff approached the young talent to get him ready for his part in the game plan.
"They told me I couldn't be a freshman all year," Johnson said. "They told me I had to step up and it was my time. The time came and I just stepped up."
And step up he did. Johnson made one of the biggest plays in Syracuse's 13-0 win over Wake Forest with an interception that helped the Orange extend their lead. He was ready for the moment largely because of the work he has been doing behind the scenes. Underrated is the ability to develop within a season, and Johnson has been doing just that.
"What I've really been working on is getting off the ball," Johnson said. "Getting into the playbook. That's the biggest challenge (defensive line) coach (Tim) Daoust has for me. That and use my hands even more. What coach Daoust has, the drills we do before practice even starts, the drills that we do behind closed doors. Honestly, they say the best practice is when nobody's even looking.
"That's when me, Rob Welsh, (Jay) Bromley, Ron Thompson, and Micah (Robinson) we all go to work. We go to work without anybody seeing. They all take me under their wing."
Having a moment like he did in the Carrier Dome last Saturday helps motivate Johnson to work even harder. While he enjoyed the moment, it is vital that he stays humble and keeps his focus on the task at hand.
"We're already onto next week," Johnson said. "I already forgot about the play. I watched it 30 times that day, after that we're on to Maryland right now. That just betters me. That pushes me to be better. That pushes me to push to my full potential. So that's what I'm going to do."
That task is facing the Maryland Terrapins in hostile territory as the Orange try to get over .500 for the first time this season. The key to victory, Johnson says, is for each player to focus on their individual task.
"We haven't really seen anything special," Johnson said. "We're going to go out there and do what we need to do. Defensively wise, I don't know what the offense has. That's just what our jobs have to do. We're going to get our jobs done. Coach (Chuck) Bullough always says, ‘do your jobs.' So that's what we're going to do."
Despite the immediate impact Johnson has made, he has only reached the beginning of his full potential.