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#STINGDAILY: Countdown To A Countdown

July 15, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn Sting Daily

It seems like there are multiple clocks ticking for Isaiah Johnson; everything is a countdown.

In 16 days, Georgia Tech’s senior safety will begin his final “fall” practice on the Flats (Aug. 1 start). The time remaining before kickoff in the season opener against Elon – down to the second – can be seen on the front page of RamblinWreck.com. He has one semester left before graduation.

There is a different kind of anticipation going into this campaign for all these reasons, and for another. Not long ago, it was all taken away from Johnson. He suffered a knee injury in a December practice, missed the Sun Bowl and then spring practice.

So, to say he’s chomping to get back at it would be understatement.

“It was a freak accident. It was an eye-opener. I feel like this happened to me for a reason . . . to remind me how much I love the game,” Johnson said Monday. “I’m feeling good. Each day is better and better . . . I do feel stronger. I’m still in the process, but so far it’s good.”

Johnson’s well-traveled for a young man who turned 21 a couple months ago. He’s played in 39 games for Tech, starting 29, and his 211 career tackles ranked 14th in Tech history among defensive backs. Only Boston College’s Kevin Pierre-Louis has more career tackles among active ACC players.

Yet Johnson is not taking anything for granted. If his knee injury wasn’t enough to ensure that, spring practice did the trick. The Yellow Jackets have a considerable stock of young talent in the secondary – arguably the deepest, strongest area of the team.

Johnson and senior defensive backs Jemea Thomas and Louis Young have a wealth of experience yet they’re going to be pushed. Johnson and fellow safety Chris Milton will compete with several, including Jamal Golden, Demond Smith, Lynn Griffin, Coray Carlson and Fred Holton.

Watching spring practice was not always fun.

“I saw more guys trying to step up, trying to take my position,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “They’re working their tails off to impress the coaches and their teammates. I was proud of that. They’re telling me they want me to get back. I respect their hustle and what they’re trying to do.”

Johnson hasn’t been on the field yet under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, but he’s been around enough to like what he’s seen of the new boss, his system and his methods.

“We will be more aggressive. More big plays, I would say,” he said. “Coach Roof, I’m glad he’s here. He’s giving this defense more sense of urgency; he’s here to make big plays. He’s simplified it for us a little bit.

“At first, we were one big class but now they break us up into groups. We get more of a one-on-one type [atmosphere]. Now, people can ask questions where being in a big classroom some people might be afraid to speak out. You learn better that way.”

Johnson learns quite well, actually. He enrolled in January of 2010, in the middle of what would have been his senior year at Sandy Springs had he not graduated early. Come December, he’ll earn a degree in business finance with a certificate in marketing.

“I’m going to try to make Dean’s List one more time,” Johnson said. “I think I’ve made it five times.”

Hopefully, there will be some payback on the way. After opening with Elon and Duke, the Jackets will play North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami and BYU consecutively. Tech beat only UNC in that group last fall.

“When we take on these big teams we’ll see what kind of team we have,” he said. “Last time in Gold and White. It’s kind of amazing how fast it’s gone. This is my last go-round at Georgia Tech. I’m ready for it.”

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