FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Miami safety Jaquan Johnson grew tired of hearing other people talk about his future, and suggest that he should leave school early for the NFL.
So he let them know their opinions didn’t matter.
He’s coming back to Miami next season with eyes on competing for a national championship — and he thinks the final game of this season might be a springboard toward that goal. The Hurricanes (10-2) play Wisconsin (12-1) on Saturday in the Orange Bowl, in the capper of a season where Johnson became a breakout star for Miami.
“I could sort of sense it in people’s voice that they wanted me to just leave, but you know, I make my own decisions,” Johnson said Wednesday. “My dad taught me that. My mom taught me that. And they tell me, make my decisions and live with it.”
And his decision?
“I want to get my degree and play for a national championship,” Johnson said.
He’s on target for the degree, and the Hurricanes — after about a decade of mediocrity — seem like they’re getting closer to rejoining the ranks of the nation’s elite programs. This is Miami’s first trip to a New Year’s Six bowl since going to the Peach Bowl in 2005, and if the Hurricanes beat the Badgers it’ll be their first 11-win season since 2003.
There are still some Miami defensive players thinking about leaving early, including defensive lineman R.J. McIntosh — who indicated Wednesday that he hasn’t made a final decision. Miami coaches share information with the draft-eligible juniors about their options, but Johnson’s mind was apparently made up before he even got a sales pitch about staying.
“I think Jaquan loves Miami,” Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “I think he loves our program, and he loves where it’s going and wants to be a part of it.”
Johnson was a backup in his first two seasons, getting time behind some solid upperclassmen. He started all 12 games for Miami this season, intercepting four passes — which means he got plenty of time wearing the Hurricanes’ Turnover Chain, the sideline motivational tool that became, by far, the most talked-about piece of jewelry on Saturdays this fall.
The chain is coming back in 2018.
It only makes sense that Johnson is as well.
“The chain just excited us,” Johnson said. “It made everybody happy when it came out. We just made a play, so it’s sort of like a party on the sideline as soon as the chain comes out. It gets the team going, gets the fire going.”
Wisconsin is a run-dominated offense, but the Badgers have taken note of Miami’s star safety — and will certainly know where Johnson is when it’s time to take to the air.
“He’s a real good player,” Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “Just like the rest of their defense, he’s really athletic and he makes plays. It’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Johnson speaks with great respect for Wisconsin, which almost certainly would have been in the four-team College Football Playoff if it had beaten Ohio State for the Big Ten title. He said the Hurricanes think of the Badgers as a playoff team, and that this game will help them figure out the level they’ll need to be at next season.
“This essentially is a playoff game. That’s how we’re approaching it,” Johnson said. “This should give us the blueprint how we should look coming in next year.”
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