Governor Mifflin’s Jan Johnson finds an NFL home with a Penn State connection
Jan Johnson has always made his own opportunities. Coming out of Governor Mifflin as a 6-foot-2, 195-pound linebacker, he received two offers: Akron and Fordham. The problem was, Johnson had dreams of playing for Penn State.
So, he made it happen—not on the greatest of terms, but on his terms.
Johnson wound up gaining 40 pounds in his time at Penn State. He wound up earning a psychology degree in August 2018 and a master’s in management and organizational leadership in May 2019.
And the self-made Johnson wound up going from preferred walk-on status at Penn State to being a two-year starter at middle linebacker.
Now, the 2015 Governor Mifflin graduate is living another dream, beginning in a way he’s perfected, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans, under former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. The New Orleans Saints, the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans also showed interest in Johnson, before he signed with the Texans.
Johnson actually loved the process that led to this next stage.
“You speak to the coaches over the phone and you go through the process like everyone else, and I really enjoyed it,” said Johnson, who turned 24 on April 9. “But the scrutiny that you undergo is no different than coming out of high school.
“You’re going to get that ‘You’re too slow,’ or ‘You’re not any good this,’ or ‘You’re not any good at that.’ You just have to get the opportunity to prove people wrong. I just want to get my foot in the door.”
Johnson didn’t carry his phone with him over the weekend, enjoying the time at home as best as he could during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
Johnson is being projected as a linebacker by the Texans, and he’s in favor of playing special teams, which he played at Penn State on punt and kickoff return for the Nittany Lions. He’s not afraid of running down the field with his hair on fire, slamming into brick walls.
“I love that,” Johnson said. “I’m willing to get on the field any way I can. I want to try and play football for as long as I can. I do see the sacrifice that pro football players go through. As long as you’re the hammer, you’re good and there are right ways and wrong ways to play the game.
“I think overall I play the right way. I can look back at my career at Penn State, I just wanted to find a spot on the field, and I wound up becoming a captain and a two-year starter on the field. Going into the weekend, I hoped to get drafted.”
Johnson has sound advice for high school players who are thinking of taking the same course he did. He’s never let anyone define him. No major schools recruited him out of high school. Still, he played for a Big Ten program.
“It is possible, but you have to find a balance and find where you belong, and I felt like I belonged at Penn State,” Johnson said. “I am 6-foot-2½ and I had the size to gain more weight coming out of high school. I walked on, but I wasn’t small, either.
“You have to be willing to work and prove that you belong. My scenario worked, but as a young kid, you need to look at the roster, see what is happening at that college, and look where you fit, in terms of position and what’s happening at that school.
“I would say to any kid today playing high school football to be realistic. You can’t be 5-foot-9, 175 pounds and be realistic about playing Division I football as a middle linebacker. For someone like that, it’s best to go to a Division III school, get some film, and if a growth spurt comes and you become a monster, they’ll find you.
“You have to know who you are and what you can do, and see where that fits with schools that you’re looking at. You can go from a walk-on to a scholarship player, and beyond. It worked for me.”
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