ORANGEBURG—For former Clemson Tiger and Orangeburg-Wilkinson standout Jadar Johnson there was no party for the NFL Draft. There was no fanfare, no photos with the media, no interviews from ESPN and there was no celebration—because there was no phone call from the NFL.
With each passing round, Johnson saw his chances of being one of the 253 players selected in the NFL Draft diminish.
“I already kind of expected it to be like that (not getting drafted), just knowing that I wasn’t one of the bigger names in the draft,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t, I would say, expecting the worst, but if push came to shove I knew I would be alright.
“I was already kind of leaning toward that, especially after the second day went by and I didn’t get my name called. Just knowing the business and knowing how it works, I kind of knew what was going on.”
After the draft was over, and all the names had been called Johnson finally received the phone call that he had waited for his entire life—a call from the New York Giants offering him a chance to sign as an undrafted free agent.
“It definitely felt great,” Johnson said. “When I got that call from the Giants it made my day, because all I really ask for is a foot in the door—just let me get a shot. They gave me that, so I’m thankful for the Giants organization.”
It was an opportunity that, like former undrafted free agents Warren Moon, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, Wes Welker, Antonio Gates, Adam Viniateiri and hundreds of others, Johnson believes he can parlay into a long career in the NFL.
“I definitely think that. When it comes to the NFL, they’re not going to invest any money in you if they don’t think you can play,” Johnson continued. “Even though it’s a free agent deal, that’s still a good sign for me knowing that they believe in me and believe that I have enough talent to actually play on that level.
“I get the same opportunity as everybody else, even the guys that went in the first round—I get the same opportunity as them to compete when we all get there. It’s really all about getting that first step in the door.”
Even though his name was not called, Johnson joined a very elite group of former Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School Alumni that have made it to the NFL.
With his selection, Johnson became the ninth player in the history of the Bruins football program to make it to the NFL, joining Jim Summers who played in the NFL one season (1967), Rusty Russell (1984), Max Runager (1979-1989), Dwayne Harper (1988-1999), Donnie Abraham (1996-2004), Arturo Freeman (2000-2005), Alex Barron (2005-2013) and Tim Jennings (2006-2015).
For someone who prides himself in making his hometown proud, the fact that he made it to the league is something that is very special.
“It feels good, you know, having my name up there with guys who went to O-W and actually went to the NFL,” Johnson said. “Guys like Woody Dantzler, Auturo Freeman, Alex Barron, Tim Jennings—just having my name alongside those guys is definitely going to be a blessing. Those are guys that I looked up to when I was younger, so it’s just showing me that my dreams are actually coming true.”
As Johnson prepares to move to the Big Apple in hopes of making the Giants 53-man roster, there is an additional fire that is fueling him—to show the other 31 teams in the NFL that they made a mistake by not calling him.
“I’m definitely going to have a chip on my shoulder when I step out onto the field, but I’m used to it,” Johnson said. “Ever since me coming out of high school—I felt I was kind of underrated coming out—and even when I got to Clemson I still felt like I was slept on a little bit at Clemson. It’s just the same thing over again.
“I feel like the journey I’ve had the last few years, I’m built for this and I’m just ready for it—ready for the opportunity.”