Transition? What transition?
For former Brooks star Jordan Johnson, a 2,000-mile move across the country to Brigham Young University and a culture which might seem like a whole different world has been nearly as easy as crossing the street.
Never mind that BYU is a strict Mormon school with few minorities located in highly conservative Provo, Utah, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore starting cornerback had little trouble fitting in.
After making the biggest play of his young collegiate career, a 64-yard interception return on national television in BYU’s season opening 30-6 victory over Washington State, he was treated — as usual — like just one of the guys.
“I was hearing it from everybody when I didn’t score,” said Johnson, who was brought down on the 5-yard line. “I was sure I was going to score, but I was tripped up and I didn’t see the receiver behind me.
“I was getting razzed about it but I told everyone that I’ll bring it in the end zone next time. It was all in good fun.” Johnson attributes his ability to fit in at BYU to his time spent at Brooks.
“It’s a small town here and a lot different, but everyone is really nice and I haven’t had really any trouble (adjusting),” said Johnson, who was introduced to BYU by Celtics boss and Cougars alum Danny Ainge. “Brooks prepared me. The change from (hometown) Springfield to Brooks was more of a change.
“At Brooks, there were probably only 10 to 12 black students and living in the dorm wasn’t something I was used to. But it taught me about living away from home and that made it easier here.
“I’ve never really gotten homesick. I missed my mother, but she sees me play when she can and I talk to her all the time. And I miss my girl friend (Sofia Zapata, who goes to Rice University) but we get together when we can.”
Still, a Mormon school like BYU is chock full of rules, like not allowing the consumption of coffee or tea, but that, too, doesn’t bother Johnson.
“I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker anyway — when I went to Dunkin Donuts, it was to get munchkins,” he joked. “Rules are rules and most of them are just going to make you a better athlete. I don’t have any problem with them.”
Johnson’s transition on the field has been nearly as smooth.
After red-shirting as a freshman, Johnson played in all 13 games as a reserve last year, making 16 tackles and intercepting two passes, one of which he brought back 40 yards. He also returned five kickoffs for 99 yards.
A strong spring practice combined with added workouts in the offseason led to a starting berth at cornerback.
“The big thing was staying here for the summer, training with the team, watching film
and working out hard,” said Johnson. “The first summer I came home and spent some time at Brooks, but this year I was focused on football all summer.
“Then I had a strong fall (camp) and beat out two other guys for the position.”
All the preparation showed against Washington State. In addition to the big interception return, Johnson had a pass breakup and four solo tackles, one of which was so impressive that it drew raves from TV analysts.
For a debut as a starter, Johnson — who had three solo tackles and a pass breakup in Saturday’s 45-13 blowout of Weber State — couldn’t have been more impressive.
“I was excited, to play before 65,000 strong in an atmosphere like that, and my girl friend was at the game — everything was good,” he said. “It was great.
“I talked to my mother before the game and she told me not to be nervous, to just go have fun, and that’s what I did.”
Johnson admits that he enjoys himself the most when he is in possession of the ball, perhaps reflecting back to his senior year in high school as the Brooks quarterback, when he was league MVP and rushed for 950 yards, passed for 640 yards and combined for 18 touchdowns.
“I used to miss the offense, but I’m all about defense now,” he said. “If I get an interception, that’s when I get to play offense.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the year, Johnson mainly wants to continue playing solid defense and to contribute to what he believes should be a banner season for the 2-0 Cougars. But he does have one specific goal.
“I want to bring one interception back for a touchdown,” he said.
That would end the razzing even if it is good-natured.
BYU Honor code The BYU honor code governs not only academic behavior, but morality, and dress and grooming standards of students and faculty. Its requirements include: Abstinence from illicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea Living a chaste and virtuous life; appropriate gender-specific behavior No involvement with pornographic or indecent material No inappropriate sexual activity (no sexual relationships outside of marriage) No homosexual behavior Active participation in Church services (according to whatever religion of which one is a member) Clean language Following the "Residential Living Standards" (visiting hours for members of the opposite sex) Abiding by the guidelines for dress, grooming, and housing. Skirts must reach to the knee and shirts may not be sleeveless. Form fitting, strapless and revealing clothing is not appropriate. Male students may not wear beards or goatees without permission.
Dave Dyer can be reached at email@example.com.