First a podcast, then a mailbag, and now another series — might as well call this debut week at the CDT.
Every week this spring, we’ll feature five questions with a notable name in the Penn State football world, whether it’s a recently committed recruit or a former player.
Penn State record-holder and 2002 Heisman Trophy finalist Larry Johnson joined us to talk about everything from Saquon Barkley to appearing in a Jay-Z music video.
Check it out.
CDT: The game that sticks out to me was your 2002 performance against Michigan State — 279 rushing yards on 19 carries in the first half, surpassing the 2,000-yard mark for the season. You sat out that second half, primarily because the score was 48-0 at the break. What do you remember best that day, and what was going through your head in that first half?
LJ: I was so thrilled to be a part of it. Every play-call by Fran Ganter was just spot-on. You know, Michigan State was already demoralized with their record and injuries; they were just trying to get the season over with. We were pumped up with our Senior Day, and we were going to a bowl. It was the atmosphere. Everything felt right. Everything came together at the right time. In the first half, I was nervous because I wanted it (surpassing 2,000 yards) to happen naturally. Once I hit it, the selfish part of me was like, ‘Please let me go back in for the second half.’ I wanted to break Ladainian Tomlinson’s record (406 rushing yards in a game). I had 279, why not go back and do it? But knowing Joe (Paterno), I didn’t even go up and ask. I knew he didn’t want to embarrass any team for any record for any player.
CDT: You’re the most recent Penn State player to be invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony back in ’02. Do you think Saquon Barkley and/or Trace McSorley will get there in 2017 and break this long drought?
LJ: The momentum they’re carrying from last year into this year, I definitely could see McSorley and Saquon being the catalysts and being at the very least mentioned with the award. By time they leave there, they’ll get some type of recognition and award because they’ve played so well. They’re going to be on the front of everything. They’ll be looked at a little bit more.
CDT: What are your thoughts on Barkley’s game?
LJ: It’s different, because he’s a combination of a lot of guys that I played with and studied for a long period of time. I love the way he has his speed and his ability to not necessarily break tackles, but to make sure those tackles never happen. I’ve seen him jump over guys, use his great vision, he doesn’t even have to get hit. That’s what makes him an amazing player to watch. He can do a lot with the ball and get into open space, and you don’t even have to worry about him getting hit or tackled. With me, it was one way or the other. You’re getting run over, or I’m getting run over. He has a lot of options.
CDT: Now that your dad (former Penn State assistant coach Larry Johnson, Sr.) coaches at Ohio State, who do you root for when the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes play? Who were you pulling for in that Penn State upset this year?
LJ: I’ve always rooted for the Nittany Lions. Guys always joke with me about who I’m going to cheer for, and all of my records have been done in blue and white. Never once have I done anything in scarlet and grey. I’ve always cheered for Penn State, and my dad knows that. I can’t just jump over for Ohio State when I’ve never been there. I do root for my dad to be successful in the whole scheme of college football. But when Penn State beat them and surprised them, I was actually on the Ohio State sideline laughing. I was wearing blue and white.
CDT: We’ll end with a fun one. You appeared in Jay Z’s “Roc Boys ... and The Winner Is” music video in 2007. Out of everyone in that video, who was the coolest to talk to or meet?
LJ: Puff Daddy, I guess not Puff Daddy anymore, but Sean Combs is the coolest guy I’ve ever gotten the chance to personally meet and talk to. You’ve got Mariah Carey, Beanie Sigel, Just Blaze, Rick Ross, you’ve got all these great artists in the music video. I’m standing near Sean Combs, and my tie wasn’t straight. So before the camera started rolling, Puff goes, ‘Hold on, hold on.’ He gets up, straightens my tie, and is like, ‘Now, you good.’ I was surprised and shocked. At that point in time, I’m still this introvert and I didn’t know anyone like that. I will always remember that.