This is part of an ongoing series previewing SU’s 2021 Football Opponents.
The Fizz has returned home from the 2021 ACC Kickoff festivities down in Charlotte. The experience was tremendous and hopefully you enjoyed the content we provided. Luckily for you, there’s still many more things to be written and attacked ahead of SU’s season.
We completed the “Behind Enemy Lines” pieces for both of ‘Cuse’s Coastal Division opponents, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, now we shift our focus to the Atlantic Division beginning with Florida State.
There are several interesting storylines surrounding the Seminoles entering its second go-around under Head Coach Mike Norvell. Will Jordan Travis get the nod under center? Does McKenzie Milton return from his horrific leg injury and seize the starting job?
While Norvell has two solid options at quarterback, there’s one sure thing about this 2021 Noles team, Jermaine Johnson II will lead the defense and is probably the most talented player in Tallahassee.
On the surface, you might know Johnson II as the big time transfer from Georgia. The Minnesota native played two seasons in Athens and played in 21 games with four starts on one of the perennially best defensive units in the nation. The speedy edge rusher totaled 36 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 8 tackles for loss, and 24 quarterback pressures.
While his story alone would be interesting from that perspective, it doesn’t start or end there. Johnson II’s story really begins at Independence Community College where he was featured on season three of the Netflix show “Last Chance U.”
Johnson II wound up in the JUCO ranks after receiving no division one offers out of high school. The Eden Prairie product was rated a three-star recruit in the class of 2017 and the 2,089th recruit in the country. Fast forward to where he is now… one of the best players in the country and a potential first-round NFL Draft selection.
What happened in between that blossomed Johnson II from unknown to nationwide household name? The Fizz asked the talented defender about his experience as a JUCO player and the lessons he learned along the way.
“I was at the bottom, I didn’t really have any money. My parents sent me frozen meals in the mail like overnight in coolers. I thank them so much for doing that. Just stay humble, keep your head down and work. I’d always tell people out of high school that I’ll be the number one guy and that’s what I ended up doing, being the number one guy at the JUCO level. Whatever you see yourself as is what you’re going to be. So if you see yourself as being that guy, even if you’re not then, you will be if you just keep working at it.”
Johnson II ended up being the number one JUCO recruit overall. Across the board he was a four-star on the 247sports.com composite which is very rare for community college transfers. A few years later, he’s now the top dog on the Florida State defense.
The Fizz asked Johnson II about some of the differences he’s noticed between SEC offensive lines and ACC offensive lines and his answer was very intriguing.
“I never really look at offensive lines. I don’t even notice the offensive lineman’s size. Because when I play, especially in pass rush situations, I’m only staring at their arms. When I want to work my moves I don’t notice how big they are until after the game. Like I said I’m a technician, I try to work on what I can work on to beat the guy across from me. I don’t care who he is.”
Well the redshirt-senior may not know it but he’s faced some incredible offensive lineman over his two seasons as a Bulldog. SEC front fives are annually some of the best in the country and the talent at tackle is stocked every year. Even in practice, Johnson II saw some of the best the nation has to offer.
It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the ACC level where the talent is very top heavy but proven no less. The Fizz asked quarterback Jordan Travis about his experience playing against Johnson II in practice. He laughed and then had this to say,
“He got me a couple times. Jermaine’s a great player and I’m thankful to have him on our side of the ball.”
In just a few short months it seems like Johnson II has earned the respect of his teammates. Again, Johnson has dominated at the JUCO level and has proven himself as a supporter in a talented cast of characters at Georgia. Now he wants to prove he can be the alpha of a defense and in doing so bring the Seminoles back to the level of respect they used to hold across the country. The Fizz asked Johnson II if he felt he was ready to take on that large responsibility.
“Of course, I’m just looking to give everything I can to this team. Be available in any way I can and whatever coach, or my teammates ask of me I just hope that I can do and deliver for them.”
This figures to be Johnson II’s final season at the college level, he certainly has the athleticism and production to play on Sunday’s but he wants to go out on a high note and maybe even boost his stock all the way to the top.
“I feel like I had the best season of my life last season, I’m so upset it was only that number of games because I felt like I was a different monster that year and I feel even better now.”
Johnson II will certainly provide Syracuse a difficult test on October 2nd when the Orange travel south too Tallahassee to begin ACC play.