A conversation with former Clemson star DeAndre McDaniel changed Jadar Johnson’s outlook on football and is a big reason why the senior from Orangeburg is having a breakout season for the Tigers.
Johnson modeled his game after McDaniel, watching YouTube videos to study the way he played safety .
McDaniel was a first-team All-ACC selection in 2009 and 2010, but went undrafted and returned to Clemson in January of 2015 as a graduate assistant.
Before this spring, McDaniel reached out to Johnson and told him that he was capable of being a special player if he put in the work. He said he saw similarities between his game and Johnson’s, providing extra motivation.
“He started talking to me, and he was like, ‘You need to get more serious. I see the potential in you. You’ve got to do the extra things. You’ve got to do the things that others are not doing,’ ” Johnson recalled.
So Johnson did.
He spent extra time in the film room and buried himself in the playbook to learn everyone’s responsibilities in addition to his own.
“I had my best spring and best camp after doing what he told me to do,” Johnson said. “I kept it going, and I’m having a good season.”
Johnson leads Clemson with three interceptions, two more than anyone on the team, and is tied for the lead with six pass breakups.
“He’s been really good. He’s really made the most of his opportunity. I’ve been really proud of Jadar and how he’s matured and handled his role,” Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “He’s a more consistent tackler, playing with better technique, trusting and understanding the people around him. He’s playing with more confidence.”
Johnson has taken on more of a leadership role for a secondary that was a question mark entering the season. The Tigers had to replace three starters, but seven games in Clemson’s ranked No. 7 nationally in pass defense.
“He’s taken us to another level,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I can’t stress that enough. I’m really proud of Jadar. He has been as consistent a player as we’ve had on our football team. We were very hopeful that he would take that next step, and boy has he.”
As Johnson continues to grow, his relationship with McDaniel is growing as well. He constantly reaches out for advice and leans on him during tough times.
“We just clicked,” Johnson said. “Any time I’ve felt like something wasn’t going my way on the field, instead of whining and pouting about it I don’t do that anymore, I just talk to D Mac. He’s like my big brother away from home.”
Who: Clemson (7-0) at Florida State (5-2)
When: 8 p.m., Saturday
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium
TV: ABC Radio: 93.1 FM
Line: Clemson by 5