'Coach Johnson' Leaves Lasting Legacy
Senior D.J. Johnson has developed into a top leader on the Texas Tech defense during his Red Raider career.
by Britton Drown
November 10, 2012
It seems D.J. Johnson has always been there.
Through the abundant changes and challenges the Texas Tech defense has tackled the previous handful of seasons, the reliable and unwavering safety from Austin has been a consistent presence. And perhaps that's why he has been given the nickname - or title - of `Coach Johnson' by his very own teammates.
It's a label he has embraced, taking ownership of the obligation not only as a senior but as a player who has been coached himself by four separate defensive coordinators during his career.
"I use what I have learned to help the younger players," Johnson said. "When you have so many coaches, you find something good that you can take from each one."
On Saturday, `Coach Johnson' will play in his final game inside Jones AT&T Stadium, and will do so alongside 17 fellow seniors on Senior Day. It's a senior class that took on daunting challenge in 2012 - taking a team that failed to qualify for a bowl for the first time in 18 years and guiding it back to postseason play.
It took just seven weeks for the group to do so as the Red Raiders opened 2012 with a 6-1 record securing bowl-eligibility once again and steering the program quickly back around to its traditional winning ways.
For Johnson and this group of seniors though, the legacy of their particular class may very well be defined by its steadfast leadership - embodied by steady and reliable players such as Johnson.
"To go out there and play as well as we are," Johnson said. "That is exciting. We really take pride in it and enjoy it. We want to go out with a bang and that is our goal. We are a close-knit group and we want to leave a legacy and something for this team to build on."
For Johnson it began early in his career at Tech after arriving in Lubbock as a highly-touted defensive back out of St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin. Johnson credits learning from former Red Raider defensive back LaRon Moore as proving pivotal to developing the leadership skills he has today.
"It's part of the knowledge I've gained from the people that came before me," Johnson said of his leadership. "He really taught me a lot."
In fact, `Coach Johnson' referred to Moore as `Coach Moore' before he earned his current nickname among this Red Raider squad.
Following in those footsteps, Johnson steadily earned the trust and respect of his current teammates through both his personality and his playing ability. As a player he saw playing time from the moment he stepped on campus, playing in all 12 games during his freshman campaign in 2009 and being named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention in 2010.
Entering Saturday's game against Kansas, Johnson will have started 30 games during his career with a current streak of 21-straight which ties for the lead among defensive players with teammate Kerry Hyder.
Johnson is known amongst the defense as one of the most intelligent players on the field as he has learned to quickly pick up and understand new schemes and playbooks through the myriad of coaching changes during his career. That deep understanding of the playbook and his experience at several positions on the defensive side of the ball has grown him into a natural leader - and coach - among his teammates.
"It kind of comes with the territory," Johnson said. "It's easier for me to learn schemes on the defense than it is for a lot of people. So if I can break it down for them in a way that they can understand it, then it helps the team to become a lot better. That's what I feel like I need to be. I need to be that guy that when someone has questions, I can help them out."
In 2012, his final season as a member the Red Raider defense, those inherit leadership qualities have been evident perhaps more than ever.
"I've been a leader in the past," Johnson said. "But this year, I have really grown into my own. I'm a lot more vocal as well as being more of a leader on the field with what I do in my actions."
Those actions have spoken loudly too. During his senior campaign, Johnson and the Texas Tech defense helped to write one of the most compelling, and surprising, stories in the Big 12 as the Texas Tech defense produced one of the most remarkable one-year turnarounds by any single unit in the country.
After finishing 114th out of 120 teams in total defense in 2011, the Texas Tech defense of 2012 currently touts one of the top units in the country. Entering the Nov. 3 game against Texas, the Red Raiders ranked 11th nationally allowing just an even 300 yards per game while playing the one of the top offensive conferences in the country.
That average is a dramatic shift from the 2011 unit that allowed 485 yard-per-contest.
"My confidence has always been up about our defense," Johnson said. "I feel like we have so many things we can do with our talent, all we needed was an opportunity to go out there and do it."
They did it.
And for Johnson, it's a turnaround that he and the 18-member senior class take pride in as a lasting legacy for the group that brought back an identity to their unit. Perhaps even more so it ensures that Johnson will leave a lasting legacy himself, one that he set out to leave when he arrived in Lubbock four years ago.
"I just want people to remember that I gave it my all," Johnson said. "That I was able to overcome a lot of adversity, and at the same time that I played hard. When it comes to being out on the field I was an aggressive player and that I played for my team. I was a team player."
The Austin native now fittingly has ambitions to one day become a coach himself taking the lessons he learned as one of the top leaders on the Tech defense during his decorated career and becoming `Coach Johnson' well beyond Lubbock and the Red Raider football team.