It was August 28, 2014 — the first day of true freshman Taron Johnson‘s college career at Weber State. His debut? At Sun Devil Stadium against Arizona State, Johnson and his teammates faced off against future NFL players like Jaelan Strong and D.J. Foster.
“It felt regular,” Johnson told HERO Sports. “I didn’t know what made all of them more highly recruited than me, and I was a freshman who had just turned 18 years old. I felt like I was just as good as these guys.”
Flash forward nearly four years and Johnson — a defensive back — is very much considered on par with those future NFL players he faced off against. It is a story that has been told time and time again about FCS prospects who took a road with way more curves and bumps to get to this professional level. But Johnson earned his shot at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, and today he’ll wrap the “big trifecta” with an on-campus Pro Day.
Johnson, from Sacramento (Calif.), described his recruitment and his path.
“At first I’d planned on Sacramento State, but they ended up pulling my scholarship at the end of my senior season, then I thought San Diego State and Wyoming might come in but they never offered,” Johnson said. “Then out of nowhere Weber State offered me and asked me to come on an official visit. I committed right away. (Head coach) Jay Hill had just come from Utah and (assistant coach) Quinton Ganther had recruited me. They recruited me as a receiver, but when I got there I asked to play cornerback.”
The position switch turned out well, did it not? Johnson was a big-time contributor all four years (see career stats below) and had solid games against Pac 12 teams like Oregon State, California and the aforementioned Sun Devils. But when asked who was the best quarterback he faced, it wasn’t a signal caller of the Pac 12 or P5 ilk. It was Carson Wentz, since Weber State had gone against North Dakota State during his college career. “Carson Wentz by far. He was really good.”
With major scouting services saying Johnson is anywhere from a fourth to seventh round pick, what does he think of his college career and what is next?
“I just wanted more interceptions in college,” Johnson said. “I wish I had gotten more for my team but we played a lot of man-to-man and I like to be as close as I can to the receiver. If you’re throwing over here, they’re not going to catch it. My goal was to be the best FCS cornerback in the country. Another of my goals was to get invited to the combine and the Senior Bowl and I ended up getting to do both of those.”
At the Senior Bowl he met with all 32 NFL teams and was asked the usual questions about his background and childhood, basic “get to know you” types of questions. He felt he held his own in Mobile and at the Combine, that even going against the elite players of the FBS level, he fit in. And the scouts gave him some feedback. He has been asked frequently about how he likes special teams, and he has responded positively.
“Lots of them said they liked my film,” Johnson said. “They think I’m smart and quick and they like my toughness and they know I can make a tackles. They like the fact that I could man up. The NFL loves a man corner, somebody who can consistently line up in man-to-man. There are teams that want zone corners, too, so I’m trying to balance it out. I’m trying to show that I have no real weakness.”
In a matter of weeks, we shall see where things head for Taron Johnson, but one can be assured it’ll be something positive.
TARON JOHNSON, BY THE NUMBERS
2014: 31 tackles, 1 INT, 9 PBUs, 1 FF
2015: 44 tackles, 2 INTs, 12 PBU
2016: 48 tackles, 5 TFL, 12 PBU, 1 FR
2017: 49 tackles, 3 INTs, 9 PBU, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 QH, 1 FF