Jadar Johnson’s first three seasons on the Clemson football team have come and gone with little fanfare.
As a senior in a secondary replacing three of its starters from last season, Johnson is ready to make a name for himself.
When Johnson has had opportunities to play, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound safety from Orangeburg has demonstrated some play-making ability. In three seasons as a Tiger, Johnson has recorded 36 total tackles and four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown in 2014 and a game-sealing pick at Louisville early last season.
Overshadowed by Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green in 2015, and other safeties before them, Johnson has just two starts so far in his Clemson career.
With Kearse and Green en route to the NFL, Johnson is penciled in to start at safety, alongside sophomore Van Smith, in 2016.
Johnson, by nature, is not overtly vocal, but he is one of the two most experienced defensive backs on Clemson’s roster, along with returning starting cornerback Cordrea Tankersley. Because of that, Johnson feels ready to break out of his shell.
“I’ve always had the leader qualities in me, I’ve just always been kind of quiet,” Johnson said. “Now that I’ve been working on just speaking out and voicing my opinion, I feel like it'll be an easy transition.”
As an upperclassman in a unit of mostly underclassmen, Johnson believes his most important task is to lead by example.
“The guys who are coming up under me, they’re looking at what I do,” Johnson said. “If I’m doing something wrong, they see me doing it wrong, they’re going to do it wrong too. I feel like just if I stay focused, they'll stay focused.”
Looking back on the first three years of his Clemson career, Johnson says he has not always been as focused as he needed to be. Now that he has his chance to be a key player on Clemson’s defense, however, Johnson feels more motivated to perform than ever before.
Even with Green and Kearse out of the picture, Johnson will still have to compete to retain a starting job. While redshirt junior Korrin Wiggins is limited this spring while continuing to recover from a torn ACL, he is a candidate to start at safety once he is healthy. Ryan Carter, who played slot cornerback in 2015 but has been working with the safeties this spring, and Tanner Muse, who redshirted as a true freshman in 2015, are also candidates to earn playing time.
Regardless of who might end up starting in the long run, Johnson’s priority this spring is to build chemistry with Smith.
That hasn’t been difficult, Johnson said, because Smith was already one of his best friends on the team.
“If you see me outside of the West End Zone, anywhere else, you'll probably see me with him,” Johnson said. “We’ve always had that communication, since the first day he came on campus. He’s like the little brother I never had.”