I want to get back to the playoffs, I want to go past the first round, second round, all of that. —Taron Johnson
PARK CITY — Last season, cornerback Taron Johnson and Weber State made the FCS football playoffs for the first time since 2009, a big step forward for the program in head coach Jay Hill’s third season at the helm of the Wildcats.
Weber State lost in the first round of the playoffs, 45-14 to Chattanooga, and Johnson hasn’t forgotten the feeling of exiting the playoffs early. In fact, he's used it to fuel his fire in the months leading up to the Wildcats’ first game of the 2017 season on Sept. 2.
“It was a good experience overall, I just wish we would have done better in the playoffs, (had) a better showing for our school,” Johnson said at Big Sky Media Day Monday in Park City. “I want to get back to the playoffs, I want to go past the first round, second round, all of that.”
Johnson is one big reason Weber State has been on the rise as a football program. In 2016, the Wildcats led the Big Sky in passing defense, holding opposing offenses to an average of 193.5 yards per game. In his junior year last season, Johnson broke the school record for career pass breakups (33). He also led the Big Sky Conference in pass breakups in 2016, with 12, and was placed on the All-Big Sky Conference second team.
Johnson has worked hard in the offseason to get better and become more of a lockdown corner and now he's set lofty goals for the 2017 campaign.
“Over four interceptions, no touchdowns on me and get drafted (in the NFL),” Johnson said of his personal goals. “I feel like my drive to be the best player is really high, and I feel that’s what keeps me going the most. I want to be the best and the best at my position.”
Johnson says that this summer he has worked on his technique, his understanding of the game and his ability to read offenses.
Johnson went to high school at Sheldon High School in Sacramento, where he played wide receiver and cornerback. His senior year, he had 52 receptions for a total of 1,148 yards and 12 touchdowns while leading Sheldon in receiving yards. Weber State was his only college offer, and he originally signed with the Wildcats as a wide receiver but he transitioned to cornerback.
“I played corner in high school too, and I came to college knowing I wanted to play corner because I felt like that’s what I could be most successful at,” Johnson said.
Moving from California to Utah was a big transition for Johnson.
“It was pretty different, there’s not as much diversity, but I enjoy it overall, honestly. I enjoy the players and I enjoy the coaching staff,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s eyes lit up at the mention of one team on the 2017 schedule, California. The game will be a homecoming of sorts for Johnson, with friends and family attending, and a chance to prove himself against Pac-12 wide receivers.
“Obviously, a lot of people are going to try and tell us that we don’t have a chance, but I definitely think we do,” Johnson said. “And if we play well, execute, we can win.”
Wildcats secondary coach Preston Hadley — in his second year at Weber State — played a role in shaping Johnson into the player he is today.
“Focusing on the little things. He just wants us to focus on the little things each and every day, that way we can get better,” Johnson said of Hadley.
Another big influence on Johnson has been Hill.
“Coach Hill has done a lot for me and honestly, he’s helped me become the player I am today. Without him, I don’t know where I’d be, honestly,” Johnson said. “Weber State gave me a chance that nobody else gave me, and I appreciate that.”
Hill is grateful that he took a chance on Johnson.
“Taron (is) a four-year starter this year, that has played a lot of football for us. He’s a veteran guy that knows the game, knows how we want it done and our expectations,” Hill said. “He’s just fit perfectly for us since he’s been here.”