TCU is known for its speed on defense, just like those New Boston teams with Johnson (who played safety in high school) and Gladney roaming the secondary.
“We had a lot of speed,” Johnson said of his high school team. “We even had guys that I feel like could’ve went and played Division I also. They didn’t just because of opportunities I guess, but we had a pretty fast defense.”
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The same can be said for TCU’s defense and it must show up against No. 7 West Virginia on Saturday. Johnson, Gladney and the rest of the defense has to use its combined speed effectively to slow down a high-powered West Virginia attack behind Heisman hopeful Will Grier.
The Mountaineers boast the second-ranked passing offense in the Big 12, averaging 333.1 yards a game, and have multiple playmakers outside starting with quarterback-turned-receiver David Sills.
“It’s a pretty good passing game, like to go on the fly,” Johnson said. “Just got to be ready to talk, communicating. That’s the best way for us winning this game is communicating and talking it out.”
For Johnson, it helps to have a familiar face in Gladney, who has been in Gary Patterson’s system for the past three years. Gladney is one of the first people who pitched Johnson on TCU when he decided to transfer.
“He called my line ASAP, ‘Hey, come here and stuff like that,’” Johnson said. “It’s fun playing back with him again. That’s my little brother. Love each other.”
Johnson joined TCU as a graduate transfer last spring from Northern Illinois. Johnson had a solid career at Northern Illinois, earning third-team All-MAC honors last season with 98 tackles, including 18 for loss and four sacks.
It has taken time for Johnson to transition to a Power Five school with a defense as complicated as what Patterson runs.
“The playbook is more in-depth and detailed where you have to know your simplest details or it could get you beat,” said Johnson, who has started the past three weeks.
Johnson has settled in and ranks fifth on the team in tackles with 38. He’s had 10 tackles in each of the last two games against Kansas and Kansas State.
That’s the type of production Johnson had during his high school career. Johnson’s last two seasons at New Boston saw him register 171 tackles, 10 forced fumbles and eight interceptions.
Johnson played offense in high school, too. He and Gladney were two-way players as defensive backs and receivers.
“If [Gladney] didn’t get the ball at receiver, I was getting it,” Johnson said. “If I didn’t get it, he was getting it. It just went back and forth.”
Except on running plays. Johnson and Gladney would usually come out on run plays until defenses started game-planning for a run when each came out.
“Teams knew it wasn’t a pass, it’s a run,” Johnson said, chuckling. “So coach made one of us stay in even on a run play. We’d be tired going both ways.”
Johnson is now focused solely on TCU football and hopefully a professional career after it.
He is trying to reach a bowl game in his final year of college eligibility. It’s an uphill battle for a team that sits 4-5, but players such as he and Gladney are trying to make it a reality.
“We’re trying to win them all, but we’ve got to at least win two of these games,” Johnson said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time, one day at a time.
“That’s the mindset – just get a ‘W’ any way we can.”