Before he was the nationâ€™s top-ranked high school offensive tackle, Paris Johnson was a ballboy on Friday nights for the local high school.
Before he was coveted by, well, every college football program in America, he was this well-mannered, studious kid from Cincinnati.
Now, Paris Johnson is a month into his Ohio State career and just a couple months removed from a dominant prep tour de force that saw the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder maul opponents, move with a grace beyond his size and earn consensus five-star status, not to mention both the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Man of the Year and Anthony Munoz Lineman of the Year awards.
â€œI think once you watch his tape and watch his nasty, and then you couple that with his freakish athleticism, youâ€™re like, â€˜Man, thatâ€™s a great recipe,â€™â€ said Princeton coach Mike Daniels, Johnsonâ€™s leader for his final season of high school. â€œThe icing on top with him is being a motivated kid and very in-tuned to his goals in life.
â€œHe was a ball boy — and heâ€™s always been, â€˜Yes sir, no sir.â€™ Very respectful, humble, then you see what heâ€™s got to offer on the football field. Thatâ€™s the perfect combo for a highly successful young man.â€
On the field, though, Johnsonâ€™s disposition is relentless â€“ by design. Daniels gets asked often about his former star; he always points to the same moment, a bit of Hollywood come to the Queen City.
â€œHe had one of those highlight-type moments every game,â€ Daniels told Lettermen Row. â€œWe ran a reverse versus Withrow, and Iâ€™m always thinking of the movie Blindside, and he took one of their kids all the way to the sideline and pushed him to the track.
â€œIt kind of reminded you of the movie. And that epitomizes who he is: He wants to dominate his opponent every single rep.â€
Johnson wants opponents to submit.
â€œAll the time, and itâ€™s a great feeling,â€ Johnson told reporters of seeing previous opponents give up. â€œPeople say, â€˜Oh youâ€™ve made it, you can relax, you have scholarships.â€™
â€œFor me, I had to turn it up a notch to earn scholarships, and then I had to turn it up a notch because now I was representing all the schools that offered me. Once I committed, Iâ€™m a representation of Ohio State. I feel like I had no room just to take reps off.â€
Johnson likewise isnâ€™t taking off any early workouts now that heâ€™s on campus in his first semester of college. He doesnâ€™t back away from the expectations that accompany not only being a heralded recruit but also a home-state star.
â€œRight now, what weâ€™re going through in the workouts, this is my first showing of, â€˜Can Paris play for us as a freshman right now?â€™â€ Johnson said. â€œBefore I think about what I can do in the future to prove it, right now these workouts this week is my showing of: â€˜Can we just expect Paris to be on our line as a freshman?â€™ Right now Iâ€™m trying my best to put on a show that can put me in the competition to start.â€
Much like teammate Dawand Jones has said, Paris Johnson also has watched copious amounts of film on former Ohio State and NFL legend Orlando Pace.
â€œBest college offensive lineman in the country, hands down, ever,â€ Johnson said of Pace. â€œAnd NFL. His NFL film was pretty much the same.â€
Johnsonâ€™s stats from last season at Princeton read like an IHOP all-you-can-eat contest; 106 pancakes. But he knows that means nothing at the pinnacle of college football.
â€œThat was great, but now that Iâ€™ve early enrolled here, that stuff doesnâ€™t mean anything unless I carry those same exact actions and mentality,â€ Johnson said. â€œI have to replicate it here. I canâ€™t go from throwing dudes on the ground, theyâ€™re getting up, Iâ€™m diving on them in high school if Iâ€™m not trying to replicate it here. Itâ€™s even more important now.
â€œWith the help of Coach Mick [Marotti] in the weight room, Coach Stud (offensive line coach Greg Studrawa), once we start doing field work in spring ball, theyâ€™re going to put me in the best position so I can get back to doing that at the college level. I feel like a lot of people will say in high school I was looking like Orlando Pace was in college. I want to be able to do what Orlando Pace did in college. He was throwing people around like he was at Princeton High School, you know what I mean? Like grown men in college. Thatâ€™s everybodyâ€™s goal. I would like to be able to do that here.â€
Daniels knows the makeup — mental and physical — gives Johnson a chance at greatness.
â€œHe understands where he is going and what needs to happen for him to get there,â€ Daniels said. â€œHis diet, work ethic, film study, weight room, and how it all ties together. Heâ€™s locked in to what first round NFL Draft picks, their combine numbers are. He knows how white bread digests into your body versus wheat bread or rice.
â€œHeâ€™s a young man who is truly on a mission. And heâ€™s just gifted. Heâ€™s got that natural nasty. The want-to. And the willingness and desire to be great.â€
Paris Johnson has got it all, including an ultimate goal. Heâ€™s set his own Pace.