Bucs Johnson Has Graduation In Sight
AMES, Iowa – Someone needs to pinch Leonard Johnson. The 23-year-old former Cyclone is coming off an unlikely one- year journey that saw the Clearwater, Fla. native go from NFL hopeful to established pro rookie for his hometown team who is soon to be Iowa State graduate.
“A lot of people couldn’t even dream of something like this happening,” Johnson says.
Johnson is one of the best cornerbacks in Iowa State history, finishing his career with 247 tackles and six interceptions. One of the best covermen the Cyclones have ever fielded, some would say he was slighted when relegated to the second-team of All-Big 12 post season teams as a senior. When he wasn’t drafted, he could have succumbed to the malaise of rejection.
“I went to my best advisor, my mom,” Johnson said. “She told me ‘you can get down or use this as motivation.’”
Part of his struggle was his relationship to the younger Cyclones in the Iowa State football program.
“Here I am, all-conference, with the younger guys looking up to me as a player,” Johnson said. “It was hard to see them when I wasn’t drafted.”
But Johnson, a Clearwater, Fla. native, persevered. He was invited to camp with the team he had followed his whole life, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He not only made the team he eventually became a starter. That’s right, on the field for the team he went to watch with his family before attending Largo High.
What followed was extraordinary. Johnson made 41 tackles for Tampa Bay last season, starting six games. He made interceptions in three straight contests, starting the streak with an 83-yard return for a touchdown in a 34-24 win over San Diego. He had a season-high seven tackles against Atlanta. But Johnson is hardly resting on his laurels.
“My teammates, the veterans talked to me about consistency and being a steady performer,” Johnson said. “They taught me about the length of the season and how challenging it was to do it all over again.”
After a whirlwind year, Johnson returned to Ames in January on another mission, finish school and graduate.
“I was so close and when I am that close to something I want to finish it,” Johnson said.
Johnson was quick to recognize Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads.
“Coach really does care about you as a person,” Johnson said. “There were several coaches who helped me get ready for the combine last season and I really owe them a debt.”
Still, it was a startling when Johnson walked into the new strength and conditioning facility in the Bergstrom Building. Johnson is currently working out each day in the state-of-the-art strength and conditioning facility.
“I hadn’t seen anything like it anywhere,” Johnson said.
But graduation in May is his next priority. The man who had previously cleared major hurdles on the field does not know yet what he will do when they call his name in Hilton Coliseum.
“Maybe I’ll just turn around and yell,” Johnson said. “It will be a great day.”