SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Freshman defensive tackle Tayquon Johnson admits it has not been easy to redshirt his first season at Clemson and play only seven total snaps across three different games.
However, Johnson had positive things to say Thursday morning as he reflected on his redshirt year.
“Being able to redshirt, it was different not being able to come in and impact,” Johnson told The Clemson Insider during the Fiesta Bowl media day at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn. “It’s just challenging, almost. But being able to get experience as a redshirt freshman with us being able to have four games to play in, it’s just kind of getting us to grow.
“I remember when I came in during camp, it was a long process. Coach Swinney always told us, ‘It’s nothing bad with redshirting.’ We all are different in different places and trying to be able to figure out where we are. So, it’s been a good experience being able to redshirt and come in and learn more.”
Johnson – a former team captain at Williamsport (Md.) High School who had 184 tackles, 44 tackles for loss and 12 sacks over his last two years – is a different player now than he was when he enrolled at Clemson in the summer of 2019.
“I’ve changed a lot from being in the weight room and being able to understand my body more,” Johnson said, “being able to develop and understand more plays and stuff like that, and being able to be compatible and not just a single-down player.”
Johnson came to Clemson to compete for championships and play in the College Football Playoff, and that is exactly what the third-ranked Tigers are doing in his first year, having won the ACC Championship Game against Virginia on Dec. 7 and beaten No. 2 Ohio State in the CFP semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28.
“It’s been a long process,” Johnson said. “We just trusted in our coaches and did everything they asked us to do. Just keep on grinding is what we’ve been doing all year – just focusing on the game that’s at hand and the day that’s at hand and the practice that’s at hand.”
Fellow defensive linemen like redshirt freshman end K.J. Henry have pushed Johnson and helped get him through his first year with the Tigers.
“I remember we were going through summer workouts and I had K.J. as one of my partners,” Johnson recalled. “Coming in, I was not the best conditioned, and K.J. was just there for me and kept telling me to keep going and don’t put my hands down and just keep on going.”
Johnson’s favorite part of his week at the Fiesta Bowl has simply been spending time with teammates.
“Just being able to bond more with these guys, getting to know the guys better and just the experience itself,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you get to play in the playoffs.”
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