Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.
The sun was high in the sky, fans cheering in the stands, the ball was snapped and suddenly, for the first time, four-year-old Jadar Johnson found it in his hands.
“My dad had signed me up for the local flag football league. You’re supposed to be five, but somehow he had a connection and I got in a little earlier.
“I was the center at first and didn’t get the ball much, but the coach finally gave me a shot. On my first play, I got a 90-yard touchdown.”
From the moment he reached the endzone, Johnson knew football was the right fit for him. But as a native of Orangeburg, S.C., Johnson originally set his sights on a different Carolina university.
“Growing up closer to Columbia, I always dreamed of playing for the Gamecocks. But during my recruitment, I had to pick who was a better fit for me.
“I didn’t think I had a chance to even get on Clemson’s radar.”
However, during his 10th-grade year, Johnson attended summer camp at Clemson and caught the attention of a certain high-profile coach.
“We were all out playing and coach (Dabo) Swinney happened to ride by on a golf cart. Right as he passed me, I made a crazy catch and backflip. He talked to my parents and told them that he would come and see me in high school.
“Coach Swinney followed through with his promise during my junior season.”
After seeing Johnson in his element, Clemson decided to pursue him during the recruiting season. Once given the opportunity, he did not waste any time making his final decision and decided to end his recruiting process.
“Clemson offered me on a Monday of my junior year and I committed that Tuesday. Once I had that first visit, I fell in love with it.
“I loved the environment here. I am a country boy, so I love this atmosphere.”
But once Johnson began living on campus in January 2013, he realized that college life wasn’t quite what he expected. He no longer had his parents to help him with day-to-day struggles and instead had to rely on his teammates, most of whom he did not know.
“My biggest struggle was adjusting to college. I wanted to go home when I first came here. I told coach Swinney, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this’.”
But Swinney would not accept Johnson’s mindset. Instead, he offered a small break to the safety so he could refresh and get his mind right.
“He let me get a weekend off during spring ball, but that was enough to help me feel right and come back.
“He’s not just a football coach, he really cares about you as a person. When he says he treats us like his kids, he means that. He is a father to all of us.
“If he only cared about me in regards to football, he wouldn’t have cared that I wasn’t feeling right. He would have made me stay here. He is a real genuine person and I respect him greatly.”
Another huge influence and deeply respected person in Johnson’s life is someone who has been there for him as long as he can remember.
“My dad and I talk every night, every day. He’s my best friend. We can talk about anything, and any time I get in a tough situation, he is there to guide me.”
Of the many lessons Johnson’s father taught him, one of the greatest was how to keep his composure, on and off the gridiron.
“When I was young, I had a really bad temper. If I lost a football game, I would cry, scream and throw my helmet, but he always reminded me, ‘It’s just a game...keep your head in it.’ Ever since then, I have had a better attitude.”
This lesson came in handy this past January when Clemson was on the losing side of the national championship game in Arizona.
“If my dad hadn’t instilled that composure in me, I would have been going crazy (at the national championship game). That hurt us so bad. We were so close...two or three plays away from winning it all.
“Pain always brings you closer to the people you need to be close to. That is the biggest pain we will ever feel together.”
However, the pain felt by the Clemson community re-energized the returning players and made them push even harder through spring and summer camp.
“All of us getting a little taste of that and wanting to get back...I believe that we have each stepped it up another notch. With the guys we have this year, it is a true brotherhood.”
Another strong influence in Johnson’s life was his late aunt, “Peakie.”
“When I was young, my mom went back to college and my dad was always on the road as a truck driver. I would always be left with my aunt, ‘Peakie.’ She was like my second mom.
“She ended up getting pancreatic cancer when I was 11 and passed away. Her passing hurt me so deep, I couldn’t stop crying.”
Johnson recalled how his aunt used to attend every game and decided to start a new gameday tradition.
“I had a football game the week after she died and I started wearing a purple wristband. It felt like she was giving me superpowers.
“Since I can’t wear the wristband anymore, I talk to her before every game. I say my prayers and ask her to give me strength. She taught me a lot of lessons I needed to know as a person that also translated on the field.”
The influence of his aunt allowed Johnson to have a positive outlook on life and the opportunities that he is given.
“Life is too short to stress about things,” added #18. “I want to be remembered as a happy person who always made me laugh.
“I want to be remembered as one of the greatest to ever come through here. But at the end of the day, I just want people to say I took this opportunity and gave it all I had each and every day.”