This spring introduced a bit of an unusual occurrence in the Rutgers secondary. The team's No.1 cornerback has yet to start a single college game. However, ten practices into the spring, redshirt sophomore cornerback Tejay Johnson hasn't looked like a first-time starter.
"I'm doing a good job, just focusing on the ins and outs of the breaks," Johnson said. "I'm just doing the small things right now, getting better at that."
Knowing he's now a starter, Johnson has brought a new approach to the practice field each day.
"You have to bring it. Anytime you don't bring it, you're a target," Johnson said. "Now it's just playing through the hurt because your body starts to hurt after ten days of practice. Going out every day is tough, our offensive line is physical, it's a veteran group. Our offensive coordinator worked in the NFL so we're seeing what the NFL teams see."
To deal with the grind of being an every-down player, Johnson has added some additional size.
"I actually had to trim down, I got up to 205 [pounds]. I'm 195 right now," Johnson said. "That's coach Cole right there. My bench is 335 and my squat got close to 400 pounds."
Johnson's journey to the starting lineup has been a tumultuous one with some painful twists and turns. He signed his letter of intent to Rutgers as part of the incoming class of 2010.
But academic issues derailed him until he finally made the grade in the spring of 2011 after spending time at Fork Union Academy in Virginia.
"It humbled me, just knowing that this could be taken away from me at any point," Johnson said. "You have to bust your behind in the classroom and on the field."
In the summer of 2011, Johnson finally got his chance to suit up in scarlet. He started out as a wide receiver and then was moved to cornerback, where he was expected to contribute as a true freshman.
Then injury stepped in and brought forth more adversity.
"The North Carolina week, I was actually rotating in with the dime coverage," Johnson explained. "They said they were going to play me but I went down that first Tuesday. I tore my hamstring off the bone basically. It was something that the doctors never even seen. Then I practiced on the scout team and just tried to play through it and see if the muscle would grow back. It didn't so we had to go through a procedure.
"I got back, started to feel faster and then I tore my groin. I had a hernia with the tear. I had surgery on that. I was out a little bit last spring, came back earlier than I was supposed to. I played in the spring game but still wasn't very mobile."
Johnson was able to go on and play in all 13 games last season as a backup cornerback and special teamer. Now, he claims to be feeling better with each passing week.
"I feel pretty good. Every once in a while I will tear up some scar tissue from the hamstring. It will feel like it hurts but it's actually getting better. Once I tear all the scar tissue, which I am hoping to by the spring, I'll work it all out and get it right."
Looking ahead to the outset of the season, Johnson is expected to be one of the team's two starting cornerbacks. He tried to imagine what it will be like taking the field against Fresno State on Aug 29th.
"It's going to be something special, something I'll never forget. It's something I will hold onto and cherish for a long time. And it will humble me again when I step on the field and realize what I went through to get here. It just makes me work that much harder. I don't forget. I came from a tough life growing up, moved to Jersey and went to Fork Union, fought through the injuries. I'll never forget any of those things."