It’s quite a contrast from where Johnson found himself when he made the jump to college football. Back in 2011, Johnson arrived at Louisiana State University as one of the most highly rated high school recruits in the country.
Johnson had just become the first defensive lineman to be named Louisiana Player of the Year and pretty much the only high school player more highly touted that year was a fellow by the name of Jadeveon Clowney.
But while Clowney became the first overall pick in this year’s draft, Johnson saw all seven rounds come and go without his name being called.
But he’s not about to get bitter about it.
“At the end of the day the Lord does things for a reason,” Johnson said. “I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to be in the NFL. A lot of guys wish they had this opportunity and I’m just going to take it and grab it by the horns and run with it.”
At 21 years old, Johnson is the youngest player on the Dolphins roster. He entered the draft as an underclassman after enjoying his best season at LSU when he earned second-team All-SEC honors from both the league’s coaches and The Associated Press.
Johnson has extra motivation when it comes to earning a job in the NFL: his daughter Ti’jae Heaven Turner, who will turn 2 in August.
“She changed my life for the better, made me a better man and I appreciate every day,” Johnson said. “Not only do I have to consider myself, but I have a mouth to feed. And at the end of the day I wouldn’t want her to grow up like I grew up. I just want to put out the best example for her as I can.”
Without question, Johnson is one of the most intriguing rookies on the Dolphins roster — and not just because of his potential as a player.
In addition to his football talents, Johnson is quite the accomplished singer. He sang in the choir at O. Perry Walker High in New Orleans, also performing the national anthem before some of his football games.
“I used to do that a lot, during halftime and everything, even before the games, even at basketball games when I played basketball, I used to sing the national anthem,” Johnson said. “I appreciated everybody for letting me do that. I actually won three state championships in the choir during high school and I sang at the New Orleans Jazz Festival three straight years. It was a big accomplishment for me. I kind of broke a couple of the sweats off before the game before I roughed up on somebody.
“I sing in the locker room, try to get everybody going, stay positive.”
According to a story in the The Advocate of Baton Rouge, Johnson made his public signing debut in church at the age of 4.
When Johnson was 12, his family was forced to move from New Orleans to Alabama for a few months because of the damages caused by Hurricane Katrina.
“It was pretty tough,” Johnson said. “Me being the only born in the family, I had a lot to handle and I had to grow up at an early age. But at the end of the day my family stuck together and that’s why I was raised right. My mom and my grandmother instilled some things in me at an early age and I grew up to be a great young man.
“I was in Alabama for actually two-and-half months. As soon as they opened back up the city to move back, my grandmother wanted to move back, so we went back home and we were there during the rest of the devastation. There was a lot of stuff misplaced. We lost our home completely due to Hurricane Katrina. We had an electrical fire two months prior to Katrina. It was a rough road, but at the end of the day I’m blessed to say me and my family are still close.”
It didn’t take long for Johnson to get himself noticed at O. Perry Walker, where he would set a Louisiana high school career record with 67.5 sacks.
As a high school sophomore, Johnson was given the nickname “The Freak.”
“I showed up at a high school summer camp and I weighed 310 pounds and ran a 4.8 40,” Johnson said. “They thought it was freakish, so (they) called me ‘The Freak,’ and it stuck with me ever since then.”
Johnson’s initial thought when it came to college was to attend the University of Tennessee in part to play for famed defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
But Johnson changed his mind after Kiffin and his son Lane, the Volunteers head coach, left and ultimately he decided to stay closer to home.
He ended up being a college teammate of Dolphins second-round pick
“Yeah, we used to talk a lot in high school, him, myself and a lot of other guys that were committed,” Johnson said of James. “A lot of guys spread out. But he stayed and everything. But at the end of the day he’s a great friend and I appreciate him.”
While James was a starter right away at Tennessee, Johnson had to wait his turn at LSU. Johnson was a backup as a freshman and started three of 13 games as a sophomore before becoming a full-time starter in 2013.
Part of the problem, Johnson says, was excess weight he was carrying when he got to LSU.
“I actually went into college my freshman year thinking that in order to play big, I had to be big,” Johnson said. “I gained over 30, 40 pounds, but at the end of the day my freshman season wasn’t what I wanted it to be and mainly it was because of my weight. So I took the initiative myself to get some better coaching and the weight staff helped me at LSU and at the end of the day I lost 30 pounds and became a better player, both on and off the field.
“I had high expectations, wanting to come in my freshman year and be a starter, but it didn’t happen. I worked my way up through the trenches, but at the end of the day I had a great career at LSU and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Now, Johnson is focused solely on what’s ahead, and that’s trying to land a job with the Dolphins.