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Johnson not ready to give up on football dreams yet

Apr 25, 2012, 3:38 PM EDT

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel Getty Images

The very best college football has to offer will gather tomorrow night in Radio City Music Hall, waiting to hear their names announced during the opening round of the NFL Draft. Meanwhile, former Irish defensive end Ethan Johnson will be a thousand miles away, hopefully making up for lost time.

For a player that spent the better part of four years in the Irish starting lineup, you’d think he’d feel up to speed. But a senior season derailed by an ankle injury, and some personal problems at home that kept him away from training for the draft, had many believing Johnson had played his final down of football.

Johnson sat and watched as NFL scouts put Irish seniors through their final audition before this weekend’s NFL Draft during Notre Dame’s Senior Day. What appeared to be the desire to walk away from the game was really a personal problem Johnson kept under wraps.

“I had a family medical issue that demanded my immediate attention,” Johnson said. “I was flying back to Portland almost every weekend trying to resolve it, and I wasn’t able to give my full attention to the pro day. Although I was staying in shape and I was working out as much as possible, there’s a huge difference between doing that and getting prepared for the NFL combine and testing.”

The setback was just another pitfall in a career that was pock-marked with difficulty. A knee injury suffered in the first game of his senior season of high school kept him out of action until he arrived in South Bend. After a promising true freshman campaign where Johnson tied for the team lead in sacks, he moved to the interior of the line for his sophomore year, playing as an undersized defensive tackle for a defense that struggled to stop the run and fell apart down the stretch.

Brian Kelly’s hiring and the return to the 3-4 defense put Johnson back at his natural end position and he started all thirteen games during a rock solid junior campaign. After a disastrous stretch of football from a developmental standpoint — three different defensive coordinators, four different position coaches (Mike Elston’s illness kept him out of action for a stretch) — it seemed things were coming together for a promising senior season. Until an ankle injury against Purdue all but ended his senior season.

“The injury was frustrating. I started the season the way I wanted to, but four games wasn’t enough to make a huge impression,” Johnson said. “When I came back I wasn’t close to 100 percent but I could still help the team win, so I came back because we really needed help against the run, so I wanted to be out there.”

Johnson was out there, but no where near at his best, nullifying his ability to get to the passer and keeping him far from full strength when he returned to duty against Maryland.

“Trying to stop the run with a high ankle sprain isn’t the easiest thing to do,” Johnson said. “But I felt like I did an okay job.”

If there’s one thing that might be a bigger challenge than battling through an ankle injury, it’s getting on NFL Draft boards after jumping into the fray late. With things at home solved quicker than expected (Johnson at one point considered an attempt for the 2013 season), he and his agent went about reminding teams about a certain 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive end that can both play in the 3-4 and also get after the passer.

“When I first told my agent that I wanted to play, I was just hoping that I’d get a chance to go to camp and prove myself,” Johnson said. “But I’ve been contacted by almost every team, every team has my number to call. I’m completely healthy, my ankle is completely healthy, and I’m in my better shape than I was last season.”

It might be an uphill battle to hear his named called this weekend, but Johnson will stay in Florida training until it’s time to head to a team’s camp. Until then, he’ll keep his head down and wait for a team to give him a chance.

“I’ve had teams calling to say, ‘Look for our number on draft day,'” Johnson said. “I feel like teams are definitely interested.”

  1. domer77blowsgoats - Apr 25, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    Best of luck to Ethan –

    a perfect example of how quickly a promising career can get sidetracked even for the most highly decorated athletes

    Maybe AL should take note…

    • clannahaw - Apr 25, 2012 at 9:59 PM

      no need for the AL shot, get over it, he will be replaced

      Reminds me of all the crying about losing out on Omar Hunter to Florida, a guy who was a 2nd team freshman all-american, but has only started 7 out of the past 26 games. I don’t think he would see time over Nix or Kona right now.

      Everyone needs to stop listening to the talking heads on the worldwide leader, they have an agenda and they push it. Heck, the mid-day radio guy is an unabashed USC homer, you think he isn’t going to play for ratings by Notre Dame bashing? Come on.

      • domer77blowsgoats - Apr 26, 2012 at 9:34 AM

        There was no shot taken – simply pointing out the fact that majoring in NFL doesn’t always work out the way it is planned, be it injuries, family, sickness, etc. – i.e. everything EJ went or is going through…

        I am well over it – could care less really

        Did Nix switch to DE? and if so Lynch was 3rd string….??!! No wonder why he transferred since he saw his playing time diminish – quite a shocking fact that all interested parties have missed in this saga…

      • clannahaw - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:29 AM

        domer, If you were over it, you wouldn’t even bring it up

        where did anyone say that nix switched to DE and lynch was third string? I don’t think you read my post accurately.

      • nudeman - Apr 26, 2012 at 1:08 PM

        Just a suggestion: Don’t engage Goat. He’s the Glenn Beck of this blog.
        Let him ramble.

        Once he has you in his sights, he’ll cling to you like dirty underwear on a hot, humid day.
        And absolutely none of his stuff will make sense.
        Like saying he’s over Lynch.

        Just not worth the effort.

      • domer77blowsgoats - Apr 26, 2012 at 1:17 PM

        ah, a refreshing retort, that is almost as good of a response as the tried and true “I know you are but what am I…”

        or who could forget “I’m rubber your glue…”

        thank you clanna/nude for again driving the comment section into mediocrity

      • nudeman - Apr 26, 2012 at 1:37 PM

        When you arrived, it dipped to “Irrelevant”
        We’ve elevated it to mediocrity
        Then you came back, and it dipped again
        Now it’s ….

        Never mind
        Nix to DE. Beautiful insight. Lots of 6’1″ 33lbs DEs out there.

      • domer77blowsgoats - Apr 26, 2012 at 2:00 PM

        what is your problem Nude? Again, I post something sincere towards EJ with a reference to a timely story about AL

        How is anything about that “irrelevant?”

        And the Nix to DE was sarcasm

        The only thing irrelevant is your name calling and lack of genuine posts/contributions – regurgitation of the same thing over and over doesn’t count – see ndnations response to your contributions to yesterday’s post

        again thanks for stopping by – stay tuned for more useless BS dribble

      • nudeman - Apr 26, 2012 at 3:28 PM


        I guess I’m just not that into you. Or UAW. Or nudemon.
        Or any of your various personnas
        Simple as that. It really is

        But I wish you no ill will
        Except maybe rheumatoid arthritis that will make it impossible for you to type
        Other than that, Peace, Brother.

    • domer77blowsgoats - Apr 26, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      I could really care less if you are “in to me” and will be stopping by St Patricks on the way home to light a candle in gratitude that you are in fact “not into me”

      I’ve posted nothing but positive posts since the new Rome Mandate whereas you can’t seem to get your head out of god knows where and join the club that discusses ND football in a constructive, non-elementary manner w/o resorting to name calling, profanity, sanctimoniousness, hypocracy (spell it right that time?) etc…

      you’ve already been biotch slapped by Keith how many times??

      • nudeman - Apr 26, 2012 at 4:02 PM

        1. You wrote 3 paragraphs telling me how much you don’t care that I’m not into you. Think about it.

        2. Your posts are still largely sub par. Typically you:
        a) state the obvious
        b) have a wild, unsubstantiated angle
        c) then slip in an unprovoked at me

        3. No, you did not spell it right. Sorry.

      • jrct2450yahoo - May 2, 2012 at 10:38 AM

        I thought we were to stop the personal attacks in this forum. Come on guys, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Keith, I wish you were more forceful is this regard.

  2. poppajohn818 - Apr 25, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    Mr. Johnson this old ND fan will be praying for you & your dream. I saw where two top NFL draft picks were caught with bad drug tests so chin up, you are one of the good guys.

  3. barneysbullet - Apr 25, 2012 at 7:30 PM

    …this year’s Tom Brady?

    Go get ’em Ethan!

  4. jerseyirish10 - Apr 25, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    Good luck Ethan….whatever team takes you, they’ll get a hard nose football player and a good person too…..a true Notre Dame man. Goats is right, Mr. Lynch should take note.

  5. rambler09 - Apr 26, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    I had a chance to sit down and chat with Ethan once during his freshman year at Notre Dame. He was a very intelligent, articulate, and kind young man. I came away very impressed. All this, and he also happens to be an incredibly talented football player. I wish him the best… and we know he will be successful no matter what happens with football. Good luck Ethan!

  6. 1historian - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    I’m sure recognize the name Greg Oden. He was recently released by the Portland Trailblazers after an injury marked 5 years there. He was the overall #1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft after 1 year at Ohio State, that well-known bastion of higher learning.

    According to Sports Illustrated the 2 courses he took in his 2nd semester were Sociology and The History of Rock and Roll.

    AL seems to be a good kid who at this point is not overburdened with common sense, but he really should take note. Either that or someone close to him should make sure he does. Perhaps his mom.

    I do wish him the best, and I wish Ethan Johnson the best. I would love to see him wind up with my Patriots.

  7. oldestguard - Apr 26, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    Good Luck Ethan and all the ND guys over the next days of the draft.

    Will be watching with pride.

  8. kleinick - Apr 26, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    In other draft news, Kiper has Harrison Smith projected #31 to the Patriots. I had no idea he was projected so high….good for him. Gotta tip your cap to BK and staff on this turnaround….no way this happens with Charlie in charge. Remember people shredding Harrison on the boards 2 years ago?

    • nudeman - Apr 26, 2012 at 1:05 PM

      I don’t get that
      A safety who played mediocre football for 4 years and had no INTs last year is a #1?
      Thumbs down just below.

      • bb90grad - Apr 26, 2012 at 1:20 PM

        Maybe his stock went up because he improved over the latter part of those 4 years. Scouts may be seeing potential versus skill already in place.

      • domer77blowsgoats - Apr 26, 2012 at 2:10 PM

        whats not to get?

        the Patriots and Belichick – the most dominant team for what the last 10 years – didn’t consult the almighty Nude before creating their draft board??

        (do I need to note the sarcasm this time?)

      • nudeman - Apr 26, 2012 at 3:33 PM

        IF they do take him, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right pick
        (see Greg Oden reference above)

        How do you play safety for ND and go through an entire season without an INT?
        He was probably on the field for about 90% of the defensive snaps.
        Then again Motta had 1, so I guess together they had a stellar year.

        He always seemed to pop into my flat screen pic right after a 14 yard reception on 3rd and 12.

      • nudeman - Apr 26, 2012 at 3:34 PM

        You’re right. They might be seeing potential
        But the 1st round isn’t for “potential”
        It’s for guys who can come in and contribute right away.

  9. kleinick - Apr 26, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Long time reader, 1st time blogger today. This is a great site KA. It’s been my go-to for a couple years now.

    We just landed a stud TE from Florida, Mike Heuerman. Everybody thought he was a lock for OSU because his brother is a TE there now. Another nice pul for BK and staff.

  10. danirish - Apr 26, 2012 at 10:09 PM

    Congrats to Michael Floyd – 1st pick of the Arizona Cardinals

    Wish he was a Bear…

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