Jermaine Johnson took a different path to Georgia than most of the high-profile recruits the Bulldogs land. That’s because instead of being a true star out of high school, he had to take the JUCO route to get to Georgia.
And that transition was something that Johnson admitted was a challenge for him in his first season in Athens. But now more comfortable in his second year, he felt like he was really making strides in his game this past spring.
“I think I took a big leap this offseason because I just think needed to be more violent,” Johnson said. “In my pass rush, be more technical in my movements. In JUCO, my athleticism got me far and then coming here, learning that technique gets you farther than anything.”
He felt like he worked on that and was set to really take off this spring. Then COVID happened. But Johnson reiterated he never got discouraged over the long off-season and continued to just keep his head down.
While he was in Minnesota, he didn’t have access to some of the many luxuries he did at the University of Georgia. But his time in JUCO at Independence Community College readied him for a stripped-down offseason.
“My dad had actually purchased some weights and other things in his garage,” Johnson said. “So, I keeping my head down and calling Coach (Scott) Sinclair asking what I can do just to get better in terms of some speed stuff because you know I am a football player at the end of the day, so I can’t just be lifting weights.”
Johnson says he constantly asks his coaches for ways he can improve his game, as he’s looking to make the most out of his final season in Athens. Johnson picked up 2.5 sacks in his first year and seems poised for a bigger role given his size and athleticism.
It’s a talented outside linebacker room and between Azeez Ojualri, Nolan Smith and Adam Anderson it seems like every candidate is primed for a break-out.
That’s why it was so important to continue to work and stay ahead this offseason.
“It comes down to technique and will and how much passion you give to the game and how committed you are to the program,” Johnson said. “I just ask my teammates and my coaches what I can do to get better every day.”
But his final season in Athens wasn’t the only thing preoccupying his mind this offseason. Given the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, it cleared affected a number of Americans, including Johnson.
Even months after Floyd’s death you can still sense the pain in Johnson’s voice when talking about it.
“You can look at that and see your father’s face and for that to happen over essentially $20 of counterfeit money, it enrages me,” Johnson said. “I know my voice matters so I didn’t want to say anything bad or just out of place. It definitely struck a nerve in me.”
The Georgia team had a team meeting afterward over Zoom to discuss how the players were feeling. Johnson said that it helped him, saying Smart and the coaching staff made him feel more comfortable about his place at Georgia and speaking out.
The Georgia team had a similar meeting in-person this past Thursday after Jacob Blake was shot seven times by police in Kenosha, Wi.