As a five-star recruit and the top recruit in Michigan, a lot has been expected from Will Johnson. And there’s no shortage of anticipation for the freshman cornerback.
Although he’s just a freshman and therefore isn’t in a position to make good on those expectations quite yet, he’s still contributing to the Wolverines. In fact, he’s already added something that seems poised to be a season staple:
The sunglasses are synonymous with Detroit — where Johnson hails from — and are now a mainstay for the Michigan defense. The team huddles around the player who just recorded a takeaway and smiles for a picture, grinning.
“It definitely makes us want to get more turnovers,” Johnson said. “Somebody wants to put them on every game, so it makes it more fun.”
Johnson finding a way to contribute — even in such a small way through glasses — speaks to who he is. Where some players that were recruited as highly as he was might transfer if not given adequate playing time, Johnson has embraced the blue-collar mentality that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh always speaks about. And you can tell this just by looking at his outfit.
On Tuesday, Johnson was dressed in a simple, light-blue work shirt with his name ‘Will’ stitched in cursive where a name tag would be. He literally wore a blue collared shirt.
“Right now we’re all just trying to get better every day and push each other,” Johnson said. “That’s really my job right now, trying to push them, and make sure they get better. And they make sure I get better.”
That’s really all Johnson can do right now — play sparingly in games and push his teammates in practice. In the games he has appeared in thus far he hasn’t made a tremendous impact, giving up a long touchdown against Colorado State. But eventually, after he improves enough, Johnson will almost certainly have his chance to live up to the tremendous expectations laid upon him.
Those expectations are only increased by the number two on his jersey: The number worn by the last great Michigan cornerback, Charles Woodson.
“(The number) obviously reminds me of the legacy behind that number and just to perform, it’s a little motivation,” Johnson said.
At the Maryland game, Woodson came up to Johnson and gave him some words of encouragement.
“You got the number on,” Johnson recalls Woodson saying to him, “you gotta make a play.”
Johnson’s time isn’t right now. He’s still playing behind cornerbacks senior D.J. Turner and graduate student Gemon Green — both much farther along than him. But that doesn’t mean that this season is simply wasted time. There are valuable lessons Johnson is taking away from his time in Ann Arbor thus far.
“I’ve learned just, (there’s) a reason I’m here,” Johnson said while pausing. “And just trust myself and trust what got me here and just play confident.”
Even if many outside of the program can’t quite see the reason Johnson is not yet on the football field, they will in due time. Because if there is one thing about Johnson to know, it’s that he believes he will live up to those lofty goals:
“I think our class and the football team have been everything we expected.”
The exciting part in that is what if Johnson is everything that is expected of him? What if he lives up to his five-star billing?
But that’s all in the future, and it probably won’t happen for some time.
For right now, all Johnson can do is put his head down and go to work. And all everyone else can do is wait.
And perhaps sooner rather than later, Johnson will put the turnover buffs on himself.