How He Got Here
Austin "AJ" Johnson was a three star prospect out of the state of NJ, barely a top 25 player out of that state, when he committed to the Nittany Lions immediately upon receiving the offer over offers from Boston College, Syracuse and BTPR. Johnson redshirted his first year in Happy Valley, bulked up and proceeded to catch the eye of many a college football prognosticator, being named to Phil Steele's preseason honorable mention All American list prior to the 2013 season--before even playing a down in college.
His redshirt freshman campaign was, of course, largely unmemorable, mostly because the defense as a whole in 2013 was generously classified as such. Johnson himself appeared in all twelve games that year and started two, logging 27 tackles (3 for loss), one sack and recovering one fumble. It wasn't until last season, though, and his pairing with Anthony Zettel that his true potential began to be realized.
In this year's version of We Are!, I liken Zettel and Johnson to the Mighty Ducks 2's Bash Brothers, demolishing all in the way of their quest to win the game, and, I like to think, ultimate world domination. Johnson likely would have garnered more postseason accolades and double and triple teams throughout the year were he not beside freak of nature Zettel; as it was, he had a stellar season, finishing fifth on the squad in tackles (as a defensive tackle!?!) with 49 (six for loss) and two fumble recoveries (including one--ding ding ding--against Temple).
What To Expect in 2015
Most of the focus last year and this in terms of Penn State's interior defensive line has been, not unexpectedly or unrightfully, on Zettel. But perhaps Zettel wouldn't be Zettel if Johnson wasn't Johnson? He's somewhat in the shadows this year, and that may not be a bad thing.
The most exciting thing about Johnson is his athleticism--he doesn't just power over offensive linemen, he goes through them. And with Zettel getting the bulk of the press, and the scheming of the opposing offensive coordinators, he, along with the new starters on the outside of the line, has the talent and experience to very easily take advantage of any lapse in whatever opposing offensive lines throw at him.
Oh, and Johnson's going to graduate with a degree in journalism this December (in 3.5 years, as many on the squad are looking to do, as James Franklin--and Joe Paterno before him--likes to see) which means we'll be lucky to get him back for 2016 if 2015 is half as good as we're expecting it to be.
How the Top 10 Players Were Selected
For those of you curious, the top ten players were selected by a staff vote. Each staff member ranked the top 10 players, with a number one vote counting as 10 points, a number two vote counting for nine points, and so on. A full list of the rankings, including those who received votes but were not included in the top 10, will be published with the reveal of Penn State’s top player on Friday, Sept. 4.
The Rest of the Top Ten to Date