Ronald Johnson is ready for his senior season and that process begins with the spring ball sessions which start on Tuesday. His goals are set high and he knows what he wants to accomplish, now it is time to go out and achieve all that is possible in his final year at USC.
"I want to be a perfect player. I want to establish myself as an all-around receiver, a guy who can do it all."
With that statement, Johnson basically makes it clear that the sky is the limit in terms of what he believes he can attain this season. RoJo, as he is known far and wide on the USC campus, is a man with a plan.
"I want to put myself in the right positions to make sure I become all that I can be and I'm willing to put in the work that the other receivers won't do. You need to have the mindset to get better, to improve your athleticism. You're not going to get where you want to go without working as hard as I do."
There is a certain focus that is obvious these days when you watch RoJo putting in that work. At winter conditioning and throwing sessions, RoJo can be seen going through a wide variety of stretching and agility exercises before he even steps on to the field. After the workout is complete, RoJo is the one heading to the corner of the field for more work on the jugs machine to help develop his hands. It's not a routine for the lazy man, it also won't be taken by too many underclassmen. Instead, it is a path that is taken by a man who realizes what is at stake for his future and, after an injury suffered last year, a man who now knows how quickly it can all be taken away.
"I do three workouts every day. I do my conditioning, I do my on-field work and then I do things outside of that. I work on my route running, catching the ball, getting in an out of breaks. I watch film with the coaches, with the quarterbacks. I'm always calling Matt (Barkley) and talking to him, watching film with him. Coach Morton is also a great guy to watch film with, he goes into a lot of detail. I look at the guys who were here before me like Keyshawn, Dwayne (Jarrett), Steve Smith. I watched guys like Damian (Williams) and PT (Patrick Turner) when I was younger and tried to figure out what I could do to improve. Ted Ginn, he's a great athlete. I watch his highlight tape almost every day. His yards after catch is good. I like watching guys my size. Chad Johnson, I love his routes. I do the same type of training that he does.
"I run the sand dunes in Manhattan Beach, I work with Darrell Rideaux on running style to help with speed. I run trails, I do a lot of different things to strengthen my body. I do detoxifying treatments, I do the hyperbaric oxygen machine. That's to help strengthen my bones. I haven't been this healthy in a long time. I want to make sure I do everything I can to stay healthy. I understand now that my body is what's going to provide my living, it's how I'm going to feed my family. "
There comes a time for every college student when the reality hits you in the face that soon you will leave the college cocoon and be forced to enter the working world and earn a living. For football players at a school like USC, that thought process can often begin before their eligibility expires and many underclassmen are forced to weigh the pros and cons of heading to the NFL before they reach their senior year. For RoJo, a big junior year in 2009 would have presented him with such an option. Circumstances changed, however, with a shoulder injury suffered in a pre-season scrimmage and RoJo was forced to miss the first five games of the season
"Last year there was a temptation to turn pro as I headed into the season. I felt like I was ready until the injury. That told me it wasn't time. By staying for my senior year, now I can show the world what RoJo is about."
For those who know him well, that means a RoJo who is dedicated to all areas of his craft. Former Trojan strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle once said that RoJo is not only one of the hardest working guys on the team but that he also cares as much as any player on the team. Coming from a man like Carlisle, that is high praise indeed. Because he cares so much, and because he was not able to be on the field to help himself and his teammates, RoJo has vowed to do everything he can to avoid a repeat of the injury which caused him to be away from the action.
"There was nothing I could do on the sidelines. I was the big play guy before I got injured and that hurt a lot to know I couldn't play. That's when I started to cry. I know part of the game is injury but you ask yourself "did I do something to cause it to happen?" I want to prevent those questions. It's about staying healthy. There's no room for error. I want to work on every angle that I can to give myself the best chance of staying healthy. "
If he can stay healthy, RoJo certainly has a chance to be among the elite receivers in the nation. He has the speed, he catches the ball and he has a good knowledge of reading defenses. On top of that, he has become a leader for his younger teammates to learn what it takes to play Trojan football. All that will mean little, however, if RoJo does not produce on the field and the recent coaching change from Pete Carroll to Lane Kiffin had him paying particular attention to the results achieved by the USC receivers when Lane was an assistant in charge of the group.
"When Kiffin was here before, the leading pass receivers were getting huge numbers. If I can get 80-90 catches this year, I will turn some heads. I needs to use my speed and get yards after the catch. That will be the key. With my teammates, I've always been more of a leader by example but now I have to be more vocal. I'm a senior now, I want to tell them let's do this together. It's exciting to know what I know now, to have that experience. "
In addition to experience, RoJo has speed, he has serious speed. If he is to make that leap to be considered the best of the best, it will be his speed that help propels him to that level.
"I ran a 4.3 in my sophomore and junior year, I'm pushing to get into the 4.2's. If I can do that at the combine, that would really be good. I ran a 4.26 once in high school after my ACL injury so I think I can do it again. If I do that, I feel I will be exactly where I want to be."
Putting himself in position to succeed as an athlete is a strategy that helped lead RoJo to USC. He grew up in Michigan as the 2nd oldest of four children. His mother played basketball in high school and RoJo credits her for a lot of his athletic ability. His father, who separated from his mother when RoJo was a child, was also a football player and a bodybuilder. His older sister is a nurse, his younger brother plays JC football in Kansas "maybe someday he will play for USC" and his younger sister is studying to be a nurse. His younger sister also played a role in helping lead RoJo out west for college. On a recruiting visit to the Johnson home, Pete Carroll went with RoJo to watch the sister play in a high school volleyball match. The fact that Carroll would do that made an impression on RoJo as he says the coaching staff felt like family and that was a big part of the reason why he chose USC. Another factor was the weather.
"I just felt I wanted to get away and I knew the weather out here would allow me to be an all year football player. Back in Michigan, it's cold. It's freezing. You can't go out and get better. The athletes there can't always be on the field. Out here. you can always be training and that gives you the best chance to improve. "
After arriving at USC, RoJo was thrown into the mix immediately as a freshman. At first there was talk of maybe moving him to corner but it quickly became apparent that RoJo would have a role as both a receiver and a kickoff returner. After three years he has 74 career catches and 12 touchdowns on offense with a 24 yard return average on kickoff returns. He currently ranks 5th on the all-time USC kickoff return list.
"My time at USC has gone so fast. My favorite memory of playing at USC is fall camp. You never know what's going to happen in camp. We work hard and then we go to a movie or something. It's a lot of bonding. Outside of football, just getting to know everyone, making friends, experiencing college life. I want to take advantage of things that a lot of guys don't do. The academics, creating a network around you, things like that."
The most pressing item on the agenda for RoJo, however, is spring ball and the breaking in of a new coaching staff. RoJo is excited about what he sees so far from Kiffin and the whole staff as they look to continue the winning tradition that had been established during the Carroll era.
"Lane, he's a great guy. He's knows what he's doing. He's put together an all-star staff. He's a hard guy to please though, we've got to get on the field and show him we've got what it takes. I'm very confident right now about this coaching staff and out teamwork. Our preparation has been very good. We're all going to be ready to practice. It's the first time I've been this excited for things to get started. I'm almost too excited, sometimes I need to remind myself to calm down and not look too much to the future. We've got a great quarterback in Matt Barkley too. He's improved in every phase of his game. We hang out, watch film. He knows every part of the game. I told him "Me and you for the Heisman"
RoJo isn't joking with that last statement. He has set the Heisman Trophy as a goal and it wouldn't matter to him if he had to share it with his quarterback or not. The last wide receiver to win the coveted award was Tim Brown from Notre Dame and he impacted the game as much as a returner as he did as a receiver. For RoJo to reach those heights, he knows it will take something special.
"I would love to be like a Tim Brown. He was a great receiver and a great returner too. I feel I can be that kind of different player, a guy who stands out. I want to separate myself and I'm willing to work as hard as I can to get there."
Hard work is something that is part of make-up of Ronald Johnson and his final year at USC is one that will leave no stone unturned in terms of being prepared. Trojan fans will definitely be watching with great interest to see how it all turns out.
By Garry Paskwietz
Posted Mar 29, 2010