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SALT LAKE CITY — Jaylon Johnson is ready to make a difference on the University of Utah football team.
“I’m not out here just to be on the team. I’m out here to really have an impact,” the freshman defensive back said.
Johnson was a four-star recruit and sixth and eighth-ranked cornerback in the 2017 recruiting class by Rivals.com and Scout, respectively. He was also named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and ran a laser-timed 4.47 40-yard dash and recorded a 38.3 vertical jump at the Opening Finals camp.
Now that he’s on a collegiate roster, Johnson is vying for a starting spot, whether it comes at the beginning, middle or end of the season. He said he wants to show the country and Utah fans what he can really do, and hopefully add freshman All-American to his resume.
In the first few days of fall camp, the California-native is already separating himself from the rest of his teammates. Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said he was impressed with the defensive back after the Utes’ first practice.
“Jaylon Johnson as a true freshman — holy cow. He had a really good first day,” Scalley said.
Scalley is used to incoming freshmen swimming with what he asks them to do technique-wise. However, Johnson made plays from the first snap, displayed solid technique and had an interception in one-on-one competition.
“We’re really excited for his future,” Scalley said.
Johnson, who appreciates the secondary’s toughness and craving to win every rep, believes he’s fitting in with the unit because “it’s aggressive and fast.”
“Those are two of my attributes,” he said. “I’m big, smart and fast, and that’s everything Utah defense is.”
The freshman spends his time on the field battling against Utah’s receivers, including Oregon-transfer wide receiver Darren Carrington II.
Carrington, who Johnson respects as one of the country’s best receivers, led Oregon with 43 receptions for 606 yards and five touchdowns last season.
“I enjoy going against people at his caliber,” Johnson said. “I like comparing myself against people who are as good as me, if not better, and competing against the best.”
Practicing against top talent is something Johnson appreciates as he works toward a starting role.
“I’m not used to going against everybody that’s this good. I’m usually the best player,” he said.
While he’s thrilling to watch physically, the biggest challenge for Johnson is the mental aspect of the game, and he’s the first to admit it.
“I have to learn the speed and what the other teams are doing to me,” Johnson said. “The mental game, learning the defense, the ins and outs and reads I’m supposed to make — everything that’s not physical — is my biggest challenge. The game from high school to college is a big jump mentally.”
Johnson is eager to improve his mental game as his goal is to become well-known across the country. He dreams of making plays against USC’s Sam Darnold and other top quarterbacks in the league.
“That’s my goal — try to make plays against the big-time schools and get my name out there to everyone in the country.”
And even though he’s one of the youngest on the roster, Johnson doesn’t believe he’s at a disadvantage.
“I trust my ability and confident in what I can do. As long as I keep my confidence and stick it within myself, I’ll be all right. At the end of the day, if I do what I’m supposed to do, everything will take care of itself.”