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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

September 9, 2009 at 7:48 AM

Spotlight on James Johnson

As I referenced in one of the other reports yesterday, we all got our first chance to talk to James Johnson after practice Tuesday. He did about a 10-minute group interview and showed that Steve Sarkisian needn’t have worried about how he might handle the media spotlight.
I wrote this story as a result, also speaking with Johnson’s brother, who became his legal guardian in the sixth grade, and his high school coach. The tale of the two brothers is especially interesting.
His brother, Greg Taylor, was himself a college player at San Diego State but felt he hadn’t had the guidance he needed to make the most of his opportunities. He didn’t want the same for his younger brother so he laid down some stiff rules to install in his brother a sense of discipline. “I went to extremes on everything because I felt like you only get once chance,” Taylor said. Once football got into the picture when Johnson entered the ninth grade, his brother helped him with some rigorous off-season workouts. Taylor is friends with Az-Zahir Hakim , who also would help Johnson with his workouts.
Religion is also important in the household. As the story details, Johnson initially struggled with it before completely buying in, and in the words of his high school coach becoming a person who is “very humble, courteous. He’s always ‘yes sir, no sir.”’
As is always the case, there’s lots of info you can get into an 800-word story, so I’ll provide a few more quotes here:
Johnson on how it feels to have a game under his belt: It was a great experience. It was really, honestly, a dream come true. I’m here, as a receiver, at the University of Washington, able to play the position I wanted, and I’m succeeding at it. A lot of hard work has paid off, so it was a very fulfilling day – despite the fact that we lost. I wanted to win because we’ve been working so hard as a team.
On if he would have believed Saturday night would turn out the way it did: I wouldn’t. I never knew what was going to happen. Honestly, I took it day by day. As camp continued to progress, and I got more familiar with the offense, that’s when I realized that I could play here, that I could contribute to the team.
Was UW only school offering him to play offense?: They were the No. 2 school. It was San Diego State and here. Like I said, Coach Sark came. I really didn’t want to play defense, and I really felt something – his heart and his will to want to win. That’s what got me to come here.
Why did you sign late?: Because I didn’t trust anyone else. All the other schools, no offense, they’re good coaches, but I just didn’t feel in my heart that I’d found the place that I could go and succeed at. I hadn’t found that until I met Coach Sark.
What was it about Sark?: When he came to my
house, I felt it in my heart. I don’t know if that sounds weird, but I just got a really good feeling. I knew, once I met Coach Sark. I wasn’t 100 percent sure until I got here and met the other players, all the other guys, and everybody wanted to turn everything around despite the fact that they went 12-0 the year before. Really, it was just Coach Sark. I trust him.
Where would you have gone if UW didn’t want you to play offense?:I probably would have ended up going to Oregon to play D, to play DB. I had to get out of California. I couldn’t be in California anymore.
Why?: I just was over it. I wanted to see a different part of the world. I’ve been living in California my whole life.
Did the game come easier than you thought it would?: It did. Not to sound cocky or anything, but it was a lot slower than I thought it would be. I made some fairly decent catches and was still able to run with the ball. To be honest, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
On coming to UW early this summer: That helped me tremendously. Going into camp, I pretty much knew all I needed to know. They’re still putting stuff in week by week, but for the most part, I’m able to just go out and not think. That helped a lot.
On his relationship with Jake Locker: Jake’s a great guy. Great guy. All I do is run routes. He throws to whoever is open and whoever does the right thing. As far as me and Jake, I don’t think right now we have the great, wonderful, me-and-my-high-school quarterback connection. But he throws the ball and I catch it. (To put this quote in some context, he also talked about the close connection he had with his high school QB, Tyler Bernard, now playing baseball at Arizona State, something I mentioned in the story. So he just meant that inevitably, the connection isn’t the same yet as someone he played with for 3-4 years).
On adjusting to UW and college football: My brother actually pretty much prepared me for this. He warned me about what is going to happen when I got here and how the coaches change and it’s not the recruiting trip anymore and everything. But for the most part it went really well for me. I got along with all the guys. The only thing I say was hard was being away from family and being alone for a little bit but because I was so focused on football I don’t think it really affected me that much.
On any upperclassmen who have been mentors: I would say Jason Wells, He is a great guy. He’s been somebody that I’ve had whenever had a down day and feeling sad I can always go to him and talk to him. He gives me words of encouragement to pick me up and let me know to forget about little things that happen and just look forward to the next day.

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