Jaquan Johnson talks leadership, motivation and adversity at ACC Kickoff

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Jaquan Johnson was the Miami Hurricanes representative for the defense at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. He discussed his leadership role on the team, Ahmmon Richards’ game, going through adversity as a team and the turnover chain.

Jaquan Johnson was named the Miami Hurricanes Team MVP in 2017. He has been named to several preseason All-ACC and All-American teams. With another outstanding season, Johnson has a chance to be named among the greats that have played safety at Miami.

Jaquan Johnson led the Miami Hurricanes in 2017 with 54 solo tackles, 42 assists, 96 total tackles and three forced fumbles. He tied for the Miami team lead in 2017 with four interceptions, one interception return for a touchdown and two fumble recoveries. Johnson also broke up four passes.

Jaquan Johnson’s return is a huge reason that Miami will begin the season ranked in the top for the first time since 2005. Johnson decided to return for his season with Miami to in his words “win a championship.”

Johnson is part of a very experienced Miami Hurricanes defense. Miami will have at least five Seniors and five Juniors in their starting lineup on defense.

The Hurricanes could add a sixth Senior defensive starter in the secondary. That will depend on if Sophomore Trajan Bandy or Senior Jhavonte Dean starts opposite Michael Jackson at cornerback.

Canes Warning already discussed Johnson’s thoughts on the turnover chain at the ACC Kickoff. It was part of a broader look at if the turnover chain got in opponents heads last season.

Jaquan Johnson has been a part of a lot of adversity during his four seasons in Coral Gables. As a Freshman, he and his teammates had to endure the midseason coaching change from Al Golden to Larry Scott and the death of teammate Artie Burns’ mother in the same week. The crazy victory over Duke came the following Saturday.

Mark Richt was hired at the end of that season before Miami’s bowl game. The Hurricanes lost 20-14 to Washington State in the Sun Bowl in El Paso during a snowstorm. It was probably a fitting end to their own stormy season.

Johnson became a starting safety as a Sophomore during Richt’s first season in 2016. He has been starting ever since. That team endured its own adversity. Miami began the season 4-0 to push their way into the top ten for the first time since 2013.

The 4-0 start was followed by four straight October losses to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. The Hurricanes then closed the season with five straight victories. After beginning 2017 10-0, Miami lost their final three games of the season.

Miami also had to deal with significant injuries last season, particularly on offense. Their three best offensive players entering 2017, running back Mark Walton, wide receiver Ahmmon Richards and tight end Chris Herndon combined to miss 17 games. All three were out in the losses to Clemson and Wisconsin to end the season.

Johnson was asked by the media to discuss Richards in their first question to him. The follow up was to explain some of the catches that Richards makes.

“Ahmmon, he’s a competitor. Everybody knows he’s an elite athlete, a speedster. What they don’t understand is how he lays out for the team, how he’s always trying to block you, how he’s trying to put you into the ground.

He’s got that competitive spirit in him. Like he said, he sometimes shows flashes of being vocal, but sometimes he just has to show it through his play.

You know, he’s God gifted for one, and the second thing is he works hard. He doesn’t just let his talent show. He goes out every day and he attacks every day. He empties the bucket like Coach Gus said, our strength and conditioning coach.”

After discussing Richards, questions to Johnson were about what he’s learned with the transition between coaching staffs, the adversity of overcoming the three losses to end last season and the weird start and re-start to 2017 with Hurricane Irma.

“You know, you learn that when you’re committed to the University of Miami, you are committing to the University of Miami. Unfortunately this game, coaches have to get fired…but I’m happy that we did get Coach Richt to come in.

You believe, you buy in right away. Some guys resist, but for me, I bought in right away. I was looking forward to the change, and I trusted the process, and I believed in everything that Coach Richt said, and I’m sitting up here now.

Well, we used those three games that we lost. We try to not lose them. We talk about finishing. That’s one of the main things. We’ve got to start fast and finish strong. We started fast last year, but we didn’t finish strong.”

Johnson went on to discuss what went wrong in the final three games of 2017 and how Miami has to be ready week one this season with LSU in the 2018 opener.

“In Wisconsin we let that game go, come up here to Charlotte, and I get we get surprised by the big stage and lose that. Then we slipped up at Pitt, lackadaisical, missing throws, not executing on defense, things like that we can’t do. We have to have an attack mindset the entire season. That’s the only way you can win it all.

Opening up against LSU, we all know that it’s not a slouch team, SEC competitive team. Look forward to going out and competing every day just like us.

You hear DBU over there. Those guys, they’re just like Miami guys, to be honest. That’s where the great Ed Reed is from, so you always have to pay respect to the opponent that’s in front of you. But the team, we’re excited, we’re motivated, and we’re working hard towards LSU.”

Coming off their best season in 15 years Miami has an experienced group returning in 2018 especially on defense. Behind Johnson is an exceptionally talented Freshman secondary group. Johnson, Jackson, safety Sheldrick Redwine and Dean will hand the torch off following 2018.

First, the Hurricanes have unfinished business. Miami finally rid themselves of the albatross of their first ACC Coastal Division outright title and  ACC Championship game appearance in 2017.

The goals for this season are an ACC Championship and appearance in the College Football Playoff. They believe they can accomplish both goals.

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