For Penn State’s Juwan Johnson, patience has paid off in a big way this spring
Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson runs a drill during practice before the Rose Bowl. Joe Hermitt | firstname.lastname@example.org
Juwan Johnson has been the star of Penn State’s spring practice sessions to date, with teammates and coaches alike pointing him out, and the big catches he’s made, all along the way to Saturday’s Blue-White game.
All the hoopla would have made it easy for the redshirt sophomore to merely pick one of the catches when asked on a teleconference Tuesday morning to recall his favorite play of the spring. But, instead of doing that, he described a situation that had nothing, but then again maybe everything, to do with his rise as the logical replacement for NFL Draft hopeful Chris Godwin.
“I want to say in one of our scrimmages when I made a block down field for [quarterback] Trace [McSorley], when he broke it for almost 60 yards, that was probably one of my best plays,” Johnson said.
He didn’t think twice about it, either, over a 30-minute or so call in which he pointed to a focus on the details as one reason he’s improved so much while adding that simply focusing on catching the football every day, no matter what other on- or off-field objectives are on his schedule, has been a big help as well.
Here’s a look at it, courtesy of Penn State graduate assistant Mark Dupuis:
WR @Ju_heard_ ‘s top play this spring? ‘Probably a block I had for Trace.’
Championship habits. This is @PennStateFball!#WeAre #1stClass pic.twitter.com/SawQwI9shj
— Mark Dupuis (@mark_dup) April 18, 2017
Godwin, who mentored and still keeps in touch with his backup for all 14 games at the ‘X’ receiver position a year ago in Joe Moorhead’s uptempo offense, has been too.
“He’s one of my best friends and still will be,” Johnson said. “What I learned from him the most is his resiliency. He’s always willing to pick himself back up and make a big play or a big block to uplift the team.”
There were times Johnson needed that uplifting, too, as it wasn’t easy going from high-impact high school senior and a nationally-ranked four-star recruit to more or less a bench warmer during his first two years in blue and white. Chats with his family, and inspiring words from those within the program, helped his patience log keep burning until now, when it’s finally his turn to step onto the big stage and, in all likelihood, stand in the spotlight more often than not as one of McSorley’s go-to options.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” head coach James Franklin said earlier this month. “I think we all know he’s got some special physical abilities, and it’s all starting to come together for him.”
That’s something that has driven No. 84, too, and his selecting a block, and not a flashy catch, speak to how he’s grown as a player while keeping the unselfish ways that allowed him to quietly be a role player for the Big Ten champs in 2016, making the last two years akin to figuring out where all the puzzle pieces go.
All indications are that the puzzle is now solved.
“I’ve always harped on when I was younger; I’ve been the person not always looked down to but “he’s gonna be good, but we just need to find out when,'” Johnson said. “This offseason, I kept reverting back to that and kept seeing how things panned out, and it worked out for the best.
“I would say that I was very inconsistent the past two years, so if I had a good practice the next practice wouldn’t be as good or better, and the next practice would be good and the next practice bad, but as [this] spring’s gone on, I’ve had continuous good practices. I guess I started realizing it was different when I was getting better, and better, and better.”
He’ll get to showcase that in front of the fans for the first time when the Lions take the field Saturday at 3 p.m. for their final spring practice.