Seven solo tackles, three and a half tackles for loss, two and a half sacks and one pass defended. That is the stat line of Junior JUCO defensive end transfer, Durrell Johnson, from ASA College. He has been nothing short of impressive through the first two games of Liberty’s young season.
Johnson is showing that he is well worth the opportunity. He has shown to be fully committed to becoming a better player. Head Coach, Hugh Freeze thinks he is exactly as advertised.
“From the first time I saw his tape, his JUCO tape, I believed this is exactly what we would get,” Freeze said. “I think the biggest challenge for Durrell is to handle when things don’t go well exactly. It’s typical, when you recruit a JUCO kid, there’s usually a little learning curve that comes, particularly when things don’t come real well for you or you make a couple of mistakes. He’s hard on himself, and he’s got to learn how to play the next play and let the last one go. That’s the biggest challenge he faces. Physically, from the time I saw his first tape, I knew this guy could be explosive.”
Johnson hasn’t been perfect on the field, even though, he has put up impressive stats. One of the notable aspects of that, however, is Johnson himself addressed it during a football presser before the Florida International game. He mentioned how one of his biggest issues is he felt he “left some plays on the field.”
For a player to have the maturity and clarity to recognize their missteps on the field, can only allow for even more growth in the long run. Johnson went on to speak of the difficulty to get adjusted to a new system.
“At first it was very difficult, a lot of new things coming from JUCO to here, but I just have good faith in coach Aldridge and just bought into the system from him and Dom, everybody. We just kind of bought into the system and believed we have a higher standard from last year. We want another bowl game, but for real? The standard is going undefeated. We just need to go week by week. We just always been real tight as a team. These guys around me, Aaron Pierre, Anthony Butler, who’s my roommate, has helped me out a lot, like a lot.”
Johnson has seemingly adjusted already, despite finding it difficult early on. It seems that this team is not short on confidence, as they are focused on going 1-0 each and every week. Johnson welcoming help from his teammates to progress as a player is very telling of desire to win.
The lead recruiter for finding Johnson was the Defensive Line Coach, Josh Aldridge, who came across him because, he was looking at an offensive lineman from a different junior college.
“His area was Coach Pope’s area. I had junior colleges in Georgia,” Aldridge said. “They played that junior college and I was watching an offensive lineman to show Coach Gregg, and then when I sent the tape to Coach Gregg, Coach Gregg said well he didn’t actually play that well, this kid from ASA is kicking his butt. I then turned around and watched it. Durrell, I think he might have led the country in sacks in junior college.”
They did not intend to find Johnson the way they did, but they are fortunate they found him regardless. Coach Aldridge was very impressed with his body of work, prior to his arrival here at Liberty.
“He just stood out for me very early,” Aldridge noted. “I think we were his very first Division I offer. I think everybody was a little afraid because he was a little thinner in junior college than he is now. I don’t know why people didn’t like him, but I know I loved him very early on in the process. His personality, fell in love with that. Miss Kiffiney, his mom, built a great relationship with her. I was able to in home visit with him twice before he came to Liberty. Just building that relationship with them was great. We feel like we hit a home run. The big thing with Durrell that he’s learning, even though he’s getting all these stats and stuff like that, there’s a lot of plays out there he still can make. I think having TreShaun on the other side of him, he’s kind of like our do it all guy, most accountable guy, is a good example for him. So, they kind of feed off of each other. That was a fun process and yes it feels great, when you recruit a guy, for him to come in and be what he’s supposed to be, but he’s still got a lot to learn. I’m excited to see him grow.”
From what the coaches believe, there is more room for Johnson to grow as a player and that he can reach that potential. His devotion to put on weight is a testament to how committed he was. Defensive Coordinator Scott Symons had a lot of praise for the junior defensive end.
“Coach Dom has done an excellent job putting weight on him, he’s almost close to 30 pounds since he’s been here,” said Symons. “Coach Aldridge challenged him during the game about fighting through some adversity and working to continue pushing to a level that maybe he doesn’t realize he’s capable of. I’m proud of his progress. We expect him to be an elite player.”
Despite being a junior in college, Johnson is still fairly new to the defensive end position. Johnson has been only playing the defensive end position for about three years. Prior to this he played linebacker and safety.
“Durrell, this is only the third year Durrell has played defensive end in his life,” Aldridge said. “He was a high school linebacker and safety. When he got to junior college he was a linebacker, some type of hybrid position, redshirted and then he only played two years of defensive end there. So, this is only his third year of playing defensive end. It’s still very new to him. For him to have that production that he had, I felt like the sky’s the limit once he can learn something. I know his JUCO defensive line coach, he’s a really good coach, and I trusted him.”
Johnson has appeared to take this still rather new position in stride and is committed to getting better. It appeared to be a happy accident how Liberty came across Johnson, but it already has the makings of a small school guy that too many schools slept on. Except for Liberty.