Sept. 25, 2013
Senior defensive lineman Roland Johnson has made himself at home in Minnesota. It took two previous stints at different schools to get here, and he faced big challenges after arriving, but Johnson finally feels that he is where he is supposed to be.
"The first college I went to just didn't feel like home at all,” he said. “That's the reason I had to get out of there. My second college, although it was juco, actually felt like home. It felt like a family, team environment. The coaches knew Coach (Jerry) Kill and Coach (Bill) Miller. Transferring here felt the same way -- family, home, a nice team environment."
Johnson started at Western Carolina after graduating from Byrnes High School in South Carolina, then transferred to Butler Community College in Kansas. During his junior college stint, Miller came to watch him play, and Johnson took a visit to Minnesota.
“I loved Coach Miller and my family loved Coach Miller, so it really didn't matter how far I was going," he said.
The coaching staff and its long history together is a big reason Johnson feels a sense of family so far from his home. And his teammates, especially on the defensive line, are like his brothers. Johnson rooms with fellow lineman Yoshoub Timms, and all the linemen have a brotherly competition to see who can get the most sacks during the season.
"For a unit to come together like this, you've got to be a family,” Johnson said. “You've got to be. We get together on Thursday nights and go out to eat as a unit. It's like sitting down with your family and having dinner. We talk about things, talk about problems."
Johnson needed that support last year when he suffered an ACL tear. He had been playing some of his best football at the time, but was relegated to the sidelines for the rest of the year. The road to rehabilitation was grueling.
"That was one of the toughest things I had to do in my life,” he said. “I just kept my faith. I would like to thank God for how quick I healed after a while. And the main reason that I came back so fast was strength coach Eric Klein. He was with me every day doing things so I could get back."
"Roland did a great job in the recovery process of working hard and sticking to the plan that we had laid out for him,” Klein said. “It's hard. He had to watch his teammates go through spring ball, and he was doing exercises with me on the sideline. That's hard, but he persevered and did a great job working at it. We just took the little baby steps, taking each day by day and getting a little bit better each day. He came a long way."
After limited activity in spring practice, Johnson entered fall camp with his knee feeling completely better. Though his injury interrupted a productive 2012 season, Johnson was still able to use some momentum from his junior year.
"From getting that experience last year, I knew what to expect coming back,” he said. “I already knew how to prepare myself to get ready for the game."
Even though Johnson has not yet started in a game as a Gopher, the defensive line rotates so much that Kill said he considered him a starter last year. Johnson has a blocked extra point and 10 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss, through four games in 2013. Whether or not he cracks the starting lineup, he will continue to make important contributions.
"My goal for the rest of the season is basically to be the best that I can be," Johnson said.
With his Gopher family counting on him, who would expect anything less?
Story by athletic communications assistant Justine Buerkle
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