Sophomore steals spotlight

By Cory Giger

Typically each spring, one player emerges as the most talked-about guy on the Penn State football team, someone his coaches and teammates frequently mention and praise.

Altoona’s Kevin Givens had that distinction a year ago.

This spring, it’s redshirt sophomore receiver Juwan Johnson.

“He’s having a fantastic camp,” offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead told

Receivers coach Josh Gattis worded it nearly the same.

“(He) is having an unbelievable spring camp,” Gattis told the PSU website.

Tight end Mike Gesicki continued the praise of Johnson on a conference call Tuesday.

“He’s really improved his ball skills in the offseason,” Gesicki said. “When you put it up in his direction, it’s almost a gimme that he’s going to come down with it. He’s been running great routes to get open. But even when he’s covered, he still is open.”

All of this is extremely high praise for a receiver who caught only two passes last season. But Johnson has been heavily hyped since he got on campus, and many believe he will be in line to have a major breakthrough this fall.

“He has really improved a lot, and when you talk about most improved players on the team, he’s one of those guys who comes to mind,” Gattis said.

Johnson is 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, so he has the size and body type of a prototypical standout receiver. He redshirted in 2015 and was active last year, but with a deep receiving corps, he didn’t see a lot of action.

Johnson caught a 27-yard pass against Pitt and a 43-yarder against Michigan State, totaling 70 yards for the season.

Johnson’s role figures to be greatly expanded this year, though, with the departure of leading receiver Chris Godwin to the NFL. The Nittany Lions may or may not develop a true No. 1 receiver in Moorhead’s offense, but as they spread the ball around to all of their weapons, Johnson should have opportunities because of his size and hands.

“All the success that he has in the future is going to be deserved,” Gesicki said of Johnson. “Every time I go into the building to do some extra work, Juwan is there or leaving because he just got done. He’s staying after practice, doing extra catching, on his off days doing stretching, getting in the tubs and making sure his body is right.

“Juwan is doing everything in his power to reach the success that he wants.”

Coach James Franklin singled out Johnson at the start of spring camp for his potential.

“Juwan is a very mature kid, very business like with his approach,” Franklin said. “He has a lot of ability. He has a huge frame and comes from a football family. His brother (George) plays in the NFL (for Tampa Bay), so I think those guys like that, they have learned a lot of football by just being around it.”

Johnson hasn’t just impressed the offensive coaches and players.

“Juwan made one really nice one-handed catch across the middle, behind him,” linebacker Jason Cabinda said last week. “That was a really nice catch. It reminded me of the Godwin catch in the Rose Bowl. He’s having a really, really good spring. He’s balling right now.”

SUBHD: Leadership Council

Penn State has announced the members of this year’s Leadership Council for the football team, which includes 30 players. They are:

Marcus Allen, Troy Apke, Saeed Blacknall, Jason Cabinda, Christian Campbell, Tyrell Chavis, Curtis Cothran, Parker Cothren, Desi Davis, Tyler Davis, Mike Gesicki, Grant Haley, DaeSean Hamilton, Cody Hodgens, Brendan Mahon, Josh McPhearson, Andrew Nelson, Tom Pancoast, Daniel Pasquariello, Brandon Smith, Mitchell Vallone, Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley, John Reid and Nick Scott, Ryan Bates, Juwan Johnson, Tommy Stevens, Michal Menet and Jake Zembiec.

“We have a terrific group that will represent us on our Leadership Council this year,” Franklin said in a university statement. “This group is a diverse collection of student-athletes, who represent our four core values on a daily basis. We value their opinions and know they will drive our program’s culture and core values.

“The Leadership Council is something that is very important to us. The Council gives the team a strong voice and an opportunity to positively influence change within the program. This is a group of guys who bring a variety of different views to the table.”