Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson is already in Pensacola, Fla. training with EXOS Football, but his family was in attendance at Thursday night’s Penn State-Michigan State women’s basketball game at the Bryce Jordan Center to cheer on Johnson’s sister, Kennedy.
The family has been through quite a bit of change in the past few months, and Tammy, Johnson’s mother, has been in charge of handling most of it.
“It’s actually a crazy process,” she laughed. “I don’t wish it on anybody.”
The Johnson family vetted agents, lawyers, trainers, accountants and the like, making the process official once they knew Johnson would get his degree.
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We wanted someone sincere. Someone who’s looking out for his best interests, someone who he could get along with. Someone who could prepare him for life after football, as well.
Tammy Johnson, mother of DT Austin Johnson on finding an agent
“That was the most important part,” said Tammy. “That’s why he was here (at Penn State), to get a degree.”
Ultimately, they went with CAA as the agency that will represent him. Based in Los Angeles, CAA represents notable athletes like legendary quarterback Peyton Manning, Houston Texans defensive star JJ Watt and international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, among many other big names.
Tammy said they didn’t sign with CAA for the starpower, but rather because they felt a high level of trust with the agency’s representatives.
“We wanted someone sincere,” she said. “Someone who’s looking out for his best interests, someone who he could get along with. Someone who could prepare him for life after football, as well.”
The family did discuss with Johnson whether he would stay another year and go for his Master’s (Johnson wants to be a sports broadcaster), but once he received his evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, they made their final pros and cons list and then their decision.
She said he looked at his results and said “Hmm, you think I could do better than that?”
The Advisory Board streamlines its results to three options: First round, second round or “stay in school.”
Johnson’s results were near the top.
“Yes,” Tammy said, nodding. “Top of the second, bottom of the first, whatever.”
It’s her opinion that he could go higher, and he’ll get ample opportunities to meet with NFL coaches and general managers in the next few months to convince them of that, but she said he’ll make Penn State proud regardless.
“You could make Penn State proud and go in the top of the top round, or the middle of the top, you could still make the Nittany Lions proud ... He’s going to go out there and work hard,” she said.
Johnson will stay and train in Florida, heading to Alabama for the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30, and then back to State College for Penn State’ Pro Day in April. The 2016 NFL Draft will be held from April 28-30.
Tight ends shake-up
Penn State received a bit of a shake-up at the tight ends position on Thursday morning, when Adam Breneman announced the end of his career due to a chronic knee injury and released a heartfelt letter expressing his thanks to those who have supported him along the way.
Senior Kyle Carter has graduated and will obviously not play next season either, so that leaves Mike Gesicki and Brent Wilkerson as the two tight ends left on the roster that have seen game action, two big, bulky redshirt freshmen in Nick Bowers and Jon Holland and incoming early enrollee and top recruit Danny Dalton.
Head coach James Franklin expressed time and again last season his wishes for the unit to play less of a receiver role and block more, but in the case of the 2015 season, neither was achieved.
The tight ends compiled 33 catches as a unit and one touchdown, courtesy of Gesicki on his birthday. The young tight end, poised to become last season’s breakout star in the absence of Breneman, struggled to keep his hands on the ball and with the outside chatter that came with that. And, the blocking effort by all on the unit was often virtually nonexistent.
Gesicki, formerly a big personality on social media, deleted his Twitter app off of his phone so he wouldn’t be tempted to check in on the outside opinions that were becoming incredibly hostile toward him. Still, he struggled on the field and saw his playing time diminish immensely.
He spoke about his season before Penn State’s TaxSlayer Bowl appearance in Jacksonville.
“It definitely didn’t go the way that I planned it to. Definitely didn’t go the way any of you guys planned it to,” he told the media. He added that the experience humbled him, though he assured all that he’d still be the “same guy out there dancing around” in pregame warmups, though he’s still learning to shut out the negativity.
“I’d obviously rather go through it now than in the future,” he said. “It’ll be my fault if I don’t use it the right way to become better from it. If I don’t take these negatives and turn them into positives, then I didn’t go through this process the right way.”
The shortcomings of the unit didn’t escape its other members, either. The loss of Breneman may have opened up a spot for incoming talent, but there are glaring issues with its core members that need to be addressed.
“We always want to be better than what we achieved, so I think we were all disappointed in our production,” said Wilkerson last month at Penn State’s Bowl Media Day. “We’ll work hard in the offseason, then next year go out and prove everybody wrong.”
With the firing of former offensive coordinator John Donovan came the loss of his tandem role as tight ends coach. Graduate assistant Tommy Galt took over those duties during bowl season and it’s highly possibly that quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne could make the shift to coaching the unit, as new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead specializes in quarterbacks.
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