March 6, 2013

Exit Interview: Josh Johnson

Despite playing on a handful of games as a defensive back in high school, Josh Johnson quickly developed into a productive, solid cornerback at Purdue.

He was a full-time starter by his sophomore year and as a senior, he was a second-team all-league pick and got an invite to the NFL Combine.

While in West Lafayette for Purdue's pro day last week, Johnson chatted about his journey for our Exit Interview.

Gold and Black: How would you sum up your career here?
"Successful. The first two years were rocky. We had good teams but we could never finish. We used to beat ourselves, a lot of injuries on our key players. I felt like our junior and senior year we turned it around a lot and just proved we're a championship team, going to a bowl game, we won one and ended up losing one, but I felt we just stayed as a family and we just fought and fought. Both years we took the seniors out with a bowl."

Gold and Black: Leading up to the bowl game, it seemed like you guys were happy with the way you had been playing. How do you explain what happened in the bowl?
"After the IU game, everybody celebrated and the next day hearing that Coach Hope was no longer going to be with us, a lot of guys got down. It was a lot about, 'Can we trust the rest of the program?' Because if they're taking away our coach that led us here and got us this far, and he's fought his butt off to beat some ranked teams and beat teams we hadn't beaten since 92, and now he's beating our rival team and going to a bowl and you end up firing him, it's kind of upsetting to hear.
"But Coach Higgins came in and did a great job. He stepped in and coached his tail off. He got the guys to get to know each other a lot better. He did a thing where you've got to say what motivates you, who inspires you, what type of animal you would be and if you had one year to live, what would you do and on your tombstone, what would you write? So there was a lot of interesting things you learned about your teammates that you really wouldn't think of. I just feel like we went (to Dallas) and we had a good time. "Everybody had a great time. But I felt like when it got to game time, it felt like everybody was just there. We weren't able to play capable of what we're doing."

Gold and Black: In your senior season, you had career single-season highs in tackles, interceptions and the PBUs. You didn't get the PBU record. But did you finish your career as well as you'd like??
"I felt like my senior year was my best year. I really emphasized this on Coach Hope. In our exit interview, he said, 'What are some goals you want?' I always said, being a team captain and making some plays. He said, 'Well, you've been saying this for the past three years, you've got to step your game up and say you want something nationally.' So I went in and just played my tail off, had a lot of people supporting me and just believing. Making second team All-Big Ten, fifth in school in PBUs, top in pass defended in the country and getting invited to the Combine as well as the all-star game. I just felt like I played my best season and believing in my teammates and we just got out here and ended up sending us to another bowl game and everyone was happy."

Gold and Black: You started 36 consecutive games. Did you envision you would be able to have that kind of an impact when you came in?
"I knew that Coach (Anarumo) believed in me and he knew I could come in here and play fast because I was getting recruited as an athlete. I was used to playing offense. So coming in and the transition to playing corner was so different for me. But I just believed and start making plays and it was like, 'You know what? I can do this?' I made plays, and I never missed a game in college. I just felt like I did great."

Gold and Black: You weren't injury-free either. You played all those games but you could have easily missed one. How were you able to do that?
"Right, both of my thumbs and my ankle. Really, I just love playing football. I hate, hate, sitting here and watching somebody else play something I can do. And I hate feeling like when I miss practice, it feels like my teammates aren't there with me and it feels like I'm getting singled out. They used to tell me, 'You need to rest.' At first, it was like, 'No, I want to practice. But if you think about it, when you get that rest, it gives you time to re-cooperate and get ready for the game. They did a great job of that. I got there in the games and sometimes I was hurting bad, but I knew I had to keep playing. I had scouts watching me, and it could have been my last time being able to have a chance to play football because NFL isn't promised. I just went out there and played my all."

Gold and Black: The success you had, who do you attribute that to? Like you mentioned, you didn't have that much experience at DB when you got here. Was it Anarumo who was big in your development?
"I'd say Coach A did a great job. For the past three years, he molded me. He taught me a lot of things. Technique was tremendous to him. You had to have technique to be able to play because he said there are times you're going to be tired and you'll not be able to have your athletic ability but if you've got your technique, it can carry you a long way. Going into my senior year, Coach A ended up leaving and we ended up getting Coach Burns, and I felt like he came in and did a great job. He kept us in line. Sometimes we got upset with him because he wanted it a certain way, and we weren't used to it, but I felt like at the end of the day, he taught us a lot of things. And he helped me a lot. When my family was going through trouble with my grandma passing and my uncle ended up passing of cancer, he did a great job of calling me and talking to me, telling me to get away with my family and do as much as you can to see them. He texted me when I was at the Combine and checking on me to see how everything was going. He said he was home with his family, still in the process of getting a job."

Gold and Black: What was it like to play opposite Ricardo Allen?
"It was fun. I knew there were times they weren't going to throw my way, and they'd throw his and he's going to make plays. Or they might not throw his way and they'd throw my way, and I'd make plays. Then there are going to be times when we've got Frankie (Williams) on the other side and Ricardo and the middle and they'd have to pick and choose. They knew Frankie was younger, so they were going to pick on him. So there might be times where it might be a little boring, but you've got to remain to be consistent and still go out there and play ball because you never know exactly when they were going to throw your way. Playing with Ricardo was a lot of fun. I miss it already. Playing with these boys was a great time. He calls me and texts me, and we check in on each other. I've been talking to a lot of scouts about him, saying he's going to be a good player. Height doesn't matter. He has a dog in him, the fight in him and he loves to make plays."

Gold and Black: You went through quite a transformation not just developmentally but physically as well. You had told me you came here at 174 and you were just 199 at the Combine. That's a big deal to how you played, as a physical guy.
"Now, going onto this (professional) level, it's going to be guys bigger and stronger than you, faster than you, it's all about using the technique and getting them down on the ground and really showing them you're not afraid to approach and make plays and make big hits. A lot of guys see that in me, that I'm not afraid to come up and make a tackle and I'm not afraid to use my hands and shed some of the receivers and make a play. I feel like using that from practice habits, shedding from the blocking pads or using the sled or really just using it on your own teammates to make each other better. That really stretched me out as far as being physical."

Gold and Black: What do you hope your legacy is here?
"I want to be like Rod Woodson. I want to be one of those guys. I want you to remember me as coming in making plays, the tandem with Ricardo and Josh Johnson. Those guys made plays. You can to the end zone, and they'd hit you. Want to be one of the best players to ever come through Purdue, one of the best corners and being a good leader as far as not just football but in the community and showing you're a good people person and you love to help out."

Gold and Black: Who's the best player you played with while you were here?
"It's hard to choose. There are a couple guys. Ryan Kerrigan was a great player. Ricardo is a good player. Kawann Short. Akeem Shavers stepped in and stayed in for two years and he played his behind off. Having that fight in the dog of Marve, being hurt all those years. A lot of people may not say this, but Ralph Bolden. It's crazy that he came off three ACL surgeries and he still came out and played and did what he could. If you remember him from 2009, he was a guy who could be projected as a high pick but ended up hurting him. Those guys really showed me that they can play."

Gold and Black: Give me a breakout player for next year.
"I feel like Frankie Williams is going to do a good job. He's stepped in and he has some time to really feel the game. I feel like Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt. But a guy that people really sleep on as a dark horse is Dolapo Macarthy. He's like 6-5, and he loves to block and he loves to do what you want him to do. If you tell him to go block for a whole series, he'll do it because he just loves the game. And he has a knack to want to make plays."

Gold and Black: Best victory and toughest loss?
"Toughest loss was Ohio State this year. Or Notre Dame. Those were the two toughest ones. We played our behinds off for 59 minutes just couldn't finish it at Ohio State. Notre Dame, we knew we should have beat them and it's just a couple calls, being at Notre Dame you're not going to get if you're playing close with them. I feel like some of the biggest wins were beating Ohio State twice here. Storming the field was great. And the last three wins of my senior year, getting us to another bowl game. We had to win those and those were tremendous."

Gold and Black: Give me two captains for next year.
"Raheem Mostert and Ricardo Allen."

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