By Andrew J. Freeman
It doesn’t take long to realize that Jaquan Johnson knows what it means to be a Miami Hurricane football player.
After all, this is his hometown team, and this fall the hard-hitting safety out of Miami Killian High School will get his chance to shine.
“I’m looking forward to going out and winning, every game,” Johnson said. “That’s the standard we have here at the University of Miami and that’s how our whole team is thinking on the defense, just swarm to the ball.”
A highly touted recruit out of high school, Johnson decided early he wanted to be a Hurricane.
“I knew I wanted to come to Miami from the jump,” Johnson said. “I realized my family loved to come see me play, they loved to watch my games, that’s when we had our quality time.”
Johnson chose the hometown Hurricanes despite being pursued by numerous powerhouse programs, including Alabama, LSU, and Florida State.
“It means everything to me,” Johnson said. “To actually do it at home, and to win for them at home, for my family, and for the team, I wouldn’t want anything else.”
Johnson is coming off his sophomore season where he played in all 13 contests and started five games. He made a strong impact in 2016, registering 38 tackles and three tackles for loss. Those around the program, including defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, have been impressed with his progress so far this offseason.
“Jaquan is taking a leadership role, in an instant he became the most experienced guy we have on the back end, but I think he’s relishing in that role,” Diaz said. “He’s making all the calls, he’s keeping everybody going in all the drills, being first in every line, and doing what a guy should do when it’s his turn to be the head guy.”
Johnson is among those returning tasked with replacing the 2016-starting duo of Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter, Sr., in the secondary. Last season, Jenkins and Carter, Sr., combined for 161 tackles and 26 starts and both could hear their names called in late April during the NFL Draft.
Although Carter and Jenkins were ahead of Johnson on the depth chart throughout the year in 2016, the junior would not have had it any other way as he learned how to play like a Hurricane from the elder statesman.
“They told me it wasn’t like that when they came, they didn’t have older guys looking out for them, and trying to teach them the defense and giving them the in’s and out’s on how to approach just having school every day,” Johnson said. “They taught me how to be a professional.”
The senior tandem also helped Johnson develop his decisiveness on the field.
“It was a blessing (having those guys to learn from), they helped me out a lot, they taught me how to really dissect the game,” Johnson said. “It’s more than just tackling, you have to know what’s going on all the time, and have great communication all the time, and you’ll be able to make a lot of plays.”
Second-year safeties coach Ephraim Banda expects a lot from Johnson this year, and is ready to watch him prosper.
“He has to lead,” Banda said. “The young man has to go out there and help his team and be the same guy every day, which is a challenge, but he’s doing a good job.”
Banda added that Johnson needs to be in sync with all the leaders on the defensive side of the ball and after a productive offseason, Johnson seems up to the task.
“My knowledge for the game has really taken off,” Johnson said. “I can really see the offense and see how they’re trying to attack me, and be in position to make a play.”
With leaders across the defense, a dynamic offense, and an established coach coming into his second year in the 305, the stage is set for the Hurricanes to do something special in 2017.
Johnson knows the pressure is on him to lead, not only in the secondary, but also on the defense and team as a whole.
“I’m trying to step into a leadership role, I’m trying to get the respect of the locker room and have them believe in me, just like I believe in them,” Johnson said.
For the hometown kid, who knew he wanted to rep that Orange and Green U on his helmet as early as his freshman year of high school, Johnson would like nothing more than to be Miami’s next hometown hero.