A True Story: The Circle of Life and Football

I was reacquainting myself with Hunter Johnson and I found came across this article. Using excerpts from writer, Teddy Greenstein’s Chicago Tribune interview. I thought I’d share.

Johnson transferred to Northwestern from Clemson in March 2018, releasing a five-sentence statement that concluded with “Go Cats!”

He declined interview requests at the suggestion of NU coach Pat Fitzgerald, who thought it best that the active players receive the limelight. Johnson said he was grateful for that.

As Johnson’s brother Cole put it: “You’re going to learn this about him: He doesn’t love the light on him.” One NU staffer said he heard Johnson utter just three things at practice over the entire season: “Sorry,” “Thank you” and “My bad.”

“He’s not going to be the loudest guy in the room, he is really humble. However, he’s confident in his abilities.” That came across during Johnson’s 50-minute interview with the Tribune.

When asked if he thought he could have beaten out Trevor Lawrence had he stayed at Clemson, Johnson replied: “I think I could have, yes.” Lawrence threw for a combined 674 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in the Tigers’ playoff demolitions of Notre Dame and Alabama. He won a National Championship and emerged as the best player in college football.

As a reminder, here are a few more interesting things to know about Hunter Johnson courtesy of Greenstein’s original story.

  1. His Skills are (still) Elite. There’s a reason he was the No. 2 quarterback in 247Sports.com’s Class of 2017 composite rankings, ahead of Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), Jake Fromm (Georgia) and Tate Martell (Miami, after transferring from Ohio State) and behind Stanford’s Davis Mills. Bleacher Report rated Johnson the top passer at the 2016 Elite 11 Camp, saying he “throws the prettiest spirals” and citing counselors who said he’s “most likely to succeed in any offensive scheme.”
  2. He initially committed to Tennessee. Then-Volunteers coach Butch Jones was the first to offer a scholarship after Johnson’s freshman season at Brownsburg High School, 25 minutes west of Indianapolis. Part of the strategy in verbally committing was to ward off other schools because Johnson, ever polite, was spending hours each week returning phone calls from college coaches. The head coaches he got to know best during his recruitment were Jones, Fitzgerald, Penn State’s James Franklin, then-Indiana coach Kevin Wilson and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. Oh, he would have a memorable interaction with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.
  3. Harbaugh made a funny first impression. Johnson met Harbaugh outside his office. “I honestly didn’t recognize him at first because he kind of looked like he just rolled out of bed,” Johnson said. “His hair was all over the place. He said, ‘Hold on, let me get fired up real quick.’ He went back and put his khakis and hat on.” Harbaugh showed Johnson items, including a rocking chair, from the coach’s favorite restaurant, Cracker Barrel and said “You cannot beat the bacon.”
  4. Clemson won him over. The Tigers were 13-0 when Johnson, high school junior, visited in December 2015. The magnificent Deshaun Watson would play one more season. Receiver Hunter Renfrow hosted Johnson. “We went back to his house, played video games, watched a movie, ordered pizza and hung out,” Johnson recalled. “It was perfect for me to be around him and (defensive tackle) Christian Wilkins — great people. The small-town feel of Clemson is very special. I got a ton of one-on-one time with Coach Swinney and the coaches. I felt they were very genuine and real — and they are.”
  5. He Still (obviously)Loves Clemson. At the time of this interview, some of his best friends remained students (non-athletes) there. “It was tough leaving those guys,” he said. “I love them to death.” Lawrence signed with Clemson on Dec. 20, 2017. He was the No. 1 prospect in his class, and he didn’t come to be an apprentice. During the 2017 season, Johnson backed up Kelly Bryant and completed 21 of 27 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He posted the highest passing efficiency rating of Clemson’s three quarterbacks(Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper and Johnson) but he also knew, There’s only one starting quarterback. I saw it as both of us were too good not to at least split playing time.” To accommodate his dreams, He decided transfer was his best option. The rest is history.

It’s said, by smarter people than me, the more things change, the more they remain the same. This entire situation proves just that but honestly, things aren’t quite the same. Johnson, a little older, a bit wiser and in a different place in his life, I’m sure he must feel like his last 4 years have been one big circle.

The circle represents the concept of being connected to someone or something. Just like a ring, it’s the symbol of something unending, something that lasts. It’s also a defensive position. You remember, “round up your wagon’s boys in a circle.” A circle provides a comfort zone, a safe place to grow. That’s what Johnson wanted both in leaving from and returning to Clemson. I love the tidy simplicity of a circle.

He left Clemson in search of a new start at a new place. Unfortunately, he never found the level of success he’d worked so hard to achieve. However, to complete the circle of his “football life” he’s returned to Clemson. In returning he wants the same things as the first time, a chance to compete, a chance to share his talents, to support his team and be a quiet leader. I believe both he and Clemson will benefit from this circle. It’s indeed been an interesting, almost surreal, journey for Johnson. Welcome Home.

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