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August 8, 2012

Johnson the future at cornerback

There is not much debate over who the starting cornerbacks will be this year for Rutgers as Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones return to the roles they played so well last season. However, the future of the cornerback position is already beginning to emerge.

Redshirt freshman Tejay Johnson has settled nicely into the cornerback position after initially coming in as a wide receiver last summer.

"I feel very comfortable. In high school, I was an all-state corner," Johnson said following Tuesday's practice. "I really love offense but I think I'm better at playing defense. At corner, I am very comfortable out there. It just feels like second nature."

It almost looked like second nature on Tuesday when Johnson jumped a route and made a brilliant interception against the first-team offense.

"It's getting there. I got beat on three outs before I got that interception," Johnson said. "I was just trying to focus on my mistakes and capitalize on that one. I saw that the ball was thrown with a little less velocity so I tried to jump it."

With Ryan and Jones locking down the starting spots and Marcus Cooper looking like a solid No.3, Johnson will have to challenge Mason Robinson for that fourth cornerback spot this summer.

Yet, of all those players, only Ryan has one more year of eligibility remaining. It's almost as if that a future starting job is right there for Johnson's taking.

"I feel like it's there for the taking for anyone on our team," Johnson said. "The younger guys, we stay after practice so we can get just as many reps as the older guys. So if you show what you got and they believe you can do it, it's all about trust. If they call your number and you do what they ask and maybe even more, you will get that opportunity."

Johnson has looked to the older contingent of cornerbacks for guidance on that pathway towards seeing meaningful minutes.

"I'm learning from Logan Ryan, he's a great teacher. I sit next to him in the meeting room, studying off his notes and learning how to take notes and doing what I have to do," Johnson explained. "Juice [Brandon Jones], Mase [Mason Robinson], Coop [Marcus Cooper], they are all guys who know the program and know every way to flip it. Every time I come off the field and make a mistake, they are right there to coach me up."

Johnson has even caught the eye of a veteran who lines up on the other side of the football.

"He's pretty rangy, he's long, he's still young," wide receiver Tim Wright said of Johnson. "He has a lot to learn, a lot of tendencies to pick up on with receivers but he's going to be good."

Johnson's road to Rutgers was not a conventional one as he did not qualify out of Egg Harbor Township High School and had to spend some time squaring away his academics at Fork Union before finally making the grade in the spring of 2011.

That whole experience, which was once a tough reality to take, has turned out to be very beneficial for the rising redshirt freshman.

"It taught me to appreciate things because truthfully I did not appreciate much. I had a lot of accomplishments in high school. I wouldn't say I was cocky, I stayed humble. But in my town, through the process, it was almost like I was a superstar. So having to go through all that toned me down. I learned I am not superman, I'm a regular person just like everyone else. I have to work hard, do my schoolwork and put that 100 percent in.

"I was at home giving about 70 percent, just slacking on small things I should have been picking up on. But here and at Fork Union, they taught me how to pay attention to detail. I matured and got a lot smarter and wiser. And now, I just feel like I am so much hungrier because of that. I realized that all of this could be taken away from me in a second."


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