One can only imagine what it must be like to win a national championship one day and then turn around to begin training on a future career in the NFL.
That is exactly the journey former Clemson Tigers and Orangeburg-Wilkinson star Jadar Johnson has been on since the final whistle of the title game victory in Tampa.
“It’s been great. It’s been one of the most incredible journeys of my life,” Johnson said. “But really, I just have to throw that in the back of my mind — the national championship — just because I had to get right into training. It was a quick celebration because I had to get focused for the things ahead of me.”
Johnson played a pivotal role in the Tigers’ march to the 2016 national championship, being named first-team All-ACC (media, coaches) after amassing 65 tackles, five interceptions and seven pass breakups over 15 games (15 starts).
As Johnson makes the transition from star on a national championship team to one of hundreds of players hoping to hear his name called in the NFL Draft from April 27-29 in Philadelphia, he is relying on a family of former players for advice along the way.
“I talked to a lot of players, but it’s not just for this moment right here. I’ve been talking to them for a long time,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys, and I can’t really state any specific names because it’s just so many that it’s cluttered up in my mind. I always talk to former Clemson players, and just the network of Clemson players, it’s like those players are older brothers to us and they never leave our side.
“I could really call somebody that played in 1995, the year I was born, and call somebody and they would be willing to talk. The network of Clemson football players is great. All of their phones are always open to all of us.”
Johnson sought the wisdom of former players on the grind of the NFL Combine, in which he took part earlier this year.
But even with a multitude of former players sharing their thoughts and advice, nothing could have prepared Johnson for the event that has all eyes in the NFL watching.
“That was a great experience. It was more tiring than I thought,” Johnson said. “It was a lot of medical stuff going on, but as far as the experience I had never been up there. It was a nice experience just being, and then just going through all of the interviews with different teams and then actually performing in front of all of those teams. It was something different, but a lot of fun too.”
“I got a lot of good feedback,” Johnson said. “I was talking with some teams and I feel like my stock rose a little bit from my performance there.”
The feedback that Johnson heard most was in relation to his 40-yard dash time.
Johnson ran a 4.60 second 40-yard dash, but left the combine hearing that when the scouts saw him again at Clemson’s Pro Day event they needed that time to come down.
At the friendly confines of Clemson’s indoor facility, Johnson feels like he accomplished what the scouts were hoping to see.
“Then I went to Pro Day at got my 40 time down a little lower — that’s what they were looking for,” Johnson said. “It was definitely just like the combine, but just being at home. Everything was more comfortable for me being out there doing my drills on the field that I practiced on so much. It was definitely more comfortable for me and I was more relaxed out there.
“Those were definitely two successful things for me. The combine went great. The only thing was that I wanted to get my 40 down a little bit lower, so I came and got it down lower at Pro Day. It was really like those two worked together — like it was the same performance, just split in half. I feel like I finished up with a good performance at Pro Day.”
With the combine and Pro Day events complete, Johnson has turned his attention toward individual workouts with teams having displayed interest in the safety.
Even though he has been in talks with “at least 20 teams,” three are courting Johnson more than others.
“I’ve been talking to the Jaguars a lot. I’ve been talking to the Chargers and I’ve been talking to the Vikings. Those are the top three right now, I’ve been talking to them a lot,” Johnson said.
“With those teams, they said that I fit the type of need that they need for a safety. They haven’t really talked rounds or how early or how late they will pick me, but they still said that their interest is real high with those three teams.”
If he could pick the one team to begin his NFL career, it would be the one that he has been a fan of his entire life — one that is a little farther south.
“I’d pick Miami — just because I’ve been a Miami fan for so long,” Johnson said. “I’d definitely try to go down there and try to help those boys out.”