“And also, ‘This is what I've got to do this year. There's a lot of people counting on me.' You've got to be that leader and say, ‘Hey, guys, let's go.'”
And those next in line seem eager to listen.
“A lot of younger guys don't know how to stay in there and study film,” said sophomore end Jimmy Bean. “He's had to tell us to stay a little extra long and get it done.”
And Johnson, the heir apparent to Brandon Weeden's old-man jokes, commands a level of respect, partly earned through his dogged determination to stick it out and arrive at this moment.
Back in Haskell, he's the hometown hero who made it big. Actually, he and his cousin LeShon Johnson, who finished sixth in the 1993 Heisman race and played for the Packers, Giants and Cardinals in the NFL.
“I guess if you mention Johnson, a lot of people will know that name,” Johnson said with that big old smile Spencer mentioned.
But at OSU, he's had to earn every game rep and minute on the field, shuffling from linebacker to end, where he's finally found a home. Johnson has played in 31 games, yet made no starts.
“It was really slow at first,” he said. “It took time. It was one of those things that didn't happen right away. But it was on my heart, on my mind. I knew I had to do something. I finally just made it happen, with prayer and help with friends and family. A lot of support.
“From then on, it's just been gravy.”
Johnson ended last season with a surge, highlighted by a six-tackle, two-sack performance in the Cowboys' win over Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
And the journey continues.
“I've got a lot more to go,” Johnson said, his voice rising. “This is something I really love and enjoy doing. Any time I touch any field, whether it's the baseball field, football field, basketball court, soccer field, I'm going to give my all. I just love to compete.”