Penn State wideout Juwan Johnson didn’t realize he reached a career milestone until he was dancing inside the locker room, overhearing the radio applaud his 100-yard performance.
“I was kind of stunned,” said the redshirt sophomore, who had five catches for a career-best 105 yards. “I was glad I had 100 — just to get it over with.”
Many look at the 6-foot-4 Johnson as the receiver of the future so, while his first career 100-yard receiving game may have shocked him, his teamamtes said it was a long time coming.
His fellow Nittany Lions, on both offense and defense, pointed to his work ethic over the offseason and unanimously picked him as the spring breakout. Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens remarked Saturday on his penchant for staying at least 30 minutes after every practice. And wideout DaeSean Hamilton praised the extra work he put in during the wet-ball drills this fall.
Johnson just smiled about 30 minutes after Penn State’s high-scoring 56-44 win over Nebraska. His numbers came as a relief, he said, more than as an accomplishment to celebrate.
“Honestly, coming into the season, I didn’t have any expectations,” Johnson said. “I really didn’t have any, and people say that’s weird. But not to me. This is my first year starting here, so I’m just coming out here and making plays.”
He made plenty Saturday, so that SportsCenter had at least two to choose from during its nightly highlight shows. In the first quarter, Johnson broke two tackles en route to a 43-yard gain. And, later, he plucked a Trace McSorley pass out of the air with one hand.
“I couldn’t reach out there with two (hands),” he said, matter of factly. “So I just reached out there with one and snagged it.”
Johnson has come on especially strong for Penn State down the stretch. In his first nine games this season, he surpassed 70 yards just once and acknowledged he was nervous early on. The self-confident receiver passed that mark in each of the last two games — with 78 yards against Rutgers and then 105 yards against Nebraska.
But it took him a “bad” game, a step backward, to really progress forward. Johnson said his mistakes and drops in the Michigan State game plagued him for a short time. But Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki picked him up, helped him work on catching in the rain — and made him look forward to the season’s final romp through Beaver Stadium. Especially since the weather was supposed to be terrible.
“I let the rain get to me at Michigan State. I let it bother me; I let it mess with my head,” Johnson said. “But, this game, I had to come out and just sort of get redemption.”
Said Hamilton: “Juwan, he really took it upon himself (after Michigan State). He kind of switched the gears to know he can play up to his potential.”
Hamilton has made some of the biggest plays this season, including catching the last-second game-winner against Iowa. And, in the final game of the season at Beaver Stadium, his growth since early in the season was on full display.
He enjoyed his time after the win, taking a lap around the student fans who held his trademark Juwan Johnson sign. And he said with a smile that his first 100-yard gain was only the beginning.
“I feel like I can be a lot better than I am now,” he said.
Added Hamilton, referring to the 100-yard game: “That’s just his first of many.”