PROVO — Cornerback is probably the toughest position to recruit at BYU. And although Jordan Johnson hasn't started a game yet, he could be a fixture at field corner for the next three seasons.
Several Cougar players and coaches believe Johnson will make a significant impact on the defense.
"We haven't had speed at field corner like that for a long, long time, since I can remember," senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree said of Johnson. "I think he will be a big difference-maker as well."
Is the fleet-footed sophomore ready for prime time? Is he comfortable with that kind of hype?
"Very much so," said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Johnson. "But I grew up being humble, and I don't let that get to my head because it's all about the way you perform on the field. I've been making plays in practice and I know it's going to carry over on Saturdays.
"Hopefully, I'll have a significant role this year. Hopefully, I can get that starting spot. I've been working and doing everything I need to do to get that spot. I need to continue to work hard."
Johnson is projected to be the Cougars' starting field corner when BYU opens the season on Aug. 30 against Washington State.
Secondary coach Nick Howell is encouraged by what he's seen from Johnson during fall camp.
"Jordan is a really, really good athlete. That's what we recruited him for," Howell said. "He's what we thought he is. He has super ability. He's learned his assignments and if you watch him at practice, he's playing really, really hard, which is what I like."
For Johnson, playing cornerback is a new experience. Prior to arriving at BYU, at Brooks School in Springfield, Mass., Johnson mostly played quarterback, where he rushed for 950 yards and passed for 640 yards.
"Jordan was a high school quarterback. He never played corner in his life," Howell said. "We brought him in here, he redshirted, played on the scout team and learned the hard way on scout team. Last year was really a learning experience. There's a lot that goes into it. We say he's on an island, but there's more to it than that. His learning and his effort has caught up to his ability right now."
"I came here as 'an athlete,' " Johnson recalled. "They said they would assess me once I got here. I was comfortable with going on defense. I like to hit. Sometimes, I reminisce about being on the offensive side of the ball."
Howell remembers watching clips of Johnson in high school and being impressed.
"You turn on the film and say, 'Whoa.' You see a guy who's flashy on returns, a quarterback running the option, making guys miss, just all over the place, playing everywhere," Howell said. "He played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kick returner. He was a great basketball player, too. He can dunk and handle a basketball. He's just one of those rare, all-around athletes."
Johnson, who redshirted in 2010, credits former BYU teammates like Brian Logan and Corby Eason for helping him make the transition to cornerback.
"I had a lot of role models when I got here. I learned from them," he said. "They played the position for a while. They took me under their wing the first two years I was here and it's allowed me to progress as a corner. I'm coachable."
Last season, as a backup, Johnson recorded two interceptions, one pass breakup and 16 tackles.
Johnson has progressed gradually, according to Howell.17 comments on this story
"If you watched him the first day he was here to now, you'd say he's made a big jump," he said. "But I think it's been a gradual process, little by little."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall agreed.
"It's a step-by-step process," he said. "You can't skip from A to Z. It's just day-by-day. He's really coming along nicely. It's maturity and progress. Consistency — that's been the biggest difference. The ability and speed and quickness have all been there. He's growing up."