Sept. 17, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Isaiah Johnson already had a great college career. The fifth year senior safety had already earned his degree as well as Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year honors while attending the University of Kansas. He wanted a little bit more, so he chose to come to South Carolina for his final year of eligibility.
“This was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass on,” Johnson said of his decision to play at South Carolina. “I liked (co-defensive coordinator) Coach (Jon) Hoke and Coach (Steve) Spurrier and the school in general. It’s great that it’s close to my home too. Playing at South Carolina opens a lot of new doors for me in just being around these coaches and these players. Coming here was just a blessing.”
The Cary, North Carolina, native was not going to sit back on what he had already accomplished. Even though he was new to the program, he was prepared to take on a leadership role because of his experience.
“I always try to lead,” Johnson said. “Even when I was younger. I want other players to look up to me as someone who gets after it. It’s tough coming to a new school, but the guys responded to me pretty well. I can look up to them too. I’m trying to teach some of the younger guys what to do, and still look up to the guys who are my age and help get this team where it needs to be. I want help boost the team’s chemistry, so I want to be a leader on and off the field. It’s important to have good character too.”
There are a lot of different mindsets, but we all have common goals. The environment here and the tradition with Coach Spurrier – it just means a lot for me to be here.
Johnson said he learned those character traits from his family, and he is thankful to them for helping him stay focused in achieving his goals.
“My mom and dad have taught me a lot,” Johnson said. “They’ve always been by my side, so I’m just thankful to have Mary and Chris Johnson in my life.”
His teammates are glad to have him here to pass along his knowledge, and even though he already had a decorated career, he still had to prove himself with his new team.
“He had to earn it,” said fifth year senior defensive end Cedrick Cooper. “Regardless of anyone who comes into this locker room, you have to earn your spot on the team. He’s earned it pretty well. Isaiah is a great player. He does his job and flies around the field. I’m glad we have him on the team.”
Although Johnson is older, he’s still coachable.
“To get better every week is my expectation for him,” Hoke said. “He’s a guy who has played a lot of football, and it shows. He has instincts for the position.”
“The best part of my game is my ability to read the quarterback,” Johnson said. “I need to keep working on keeping my leverage on my tackles a little bit more. Being around these guys is the best part. There are a lot of different mindsets, but we all have common goals. The environment here and the tradition with Coach Spurrier – it just means a lot for me to be here.”
In his transition to playing at South Carolina, Johnson went to work not only on his football skills, but getting his body as fit as possible beyond lifting weights and running.
“For me personally, the biggest thing I wanted to do was work on my diet and try to change my body-type so I could play faster,” Johnson said. “I wanted to be more physical with my speed than I was before. I just had to stop eating a lot of the wrong foods and stay away from sugar. I wanted to change my body so I could be a better football player.”
While his overall weight didn’t change much, he felt like he replaced some body fat with muscle. As for his on-field goals, Johnson wants to help the Gamecock defense return to being one of the elite units in the SEC.
“I want our defense to be an SEC championship defense,” Johnson said. “I’m a team player because I know if the team does well, then everyone will be accomplishing their goals.”
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