Senior linebacker Koa Farmer shows off his tattoos and what they mean.
Ty Lohr, firstname.lastname@example.org
Juwan Johnson, it seems, is finally ready to be himself again.
If not better.
That’s what Penn State coach James Franklin proclaimed during Friday’s Citrus Bowl media day interviews.
For a variety of reasons, some still not talked about, the junior receiver never came close to his expected pass-catching production and impact on the offense this fall. His struggles symbolized a receiving unit that failed miserably to live up to preseason acclaim — at least until a few freshmen stabilized things near the end.
Now, though, Johnson reportedly is in a much better place. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder will be a focus, once again, when the Nittany Lions play Kentucky on New Year’s Day in Orlando.
“I think he’s going to have a big bowl game and have a great offseason and a really bright future,” Franklin said. “Obviously, he faced a little adversity this year, but I think it’s a positive. You embrace it. He’s going to grow from this and learn from this …
“I’m excited about how he’s going to play in this game. Juwan is like a lot of guys, he had some things that were messing with him physically during the year, things I don’t come in here and talk about.”
And he’s healthy now, Franklin said.
Consider that Johnson was one of the most important pieces of Penn State’s expected high-revving offense this past season.
He was the only big-bodied receiver with experience catching the ball in clutch moments. He was the one guy who could outstretch tall defensive backs — especially for balls around the end zone.
He caught 54 passes in 2017 despite tough competition on his own team.
So he would be a game-changer to help quarterback Trace McSorley break in a new squadron of receivers.
And it never worked as anticipated.
Johnson and the rest of the Lions’ experienced targets routinely dropped passes until they were gradually replaced in the season’s second half. The first warning signs showed during Johnson’s up-and-down opener against Appalachian State where he finished with six catches.
He made a stunning one-handed catch early against Ohio State a few weeks in, but missed on a couple of others later in the game.
He made only six receptions the entire second half of the season. He missed a few games with an apparent leg injury and returned only in good enough form for the finale against Maryland.
Overall, he caught only half as many passes as he did in 2017 — and, again, with just one touchdown.
But Franklin sees a turning point from the end of the regular season to now and to beyond the bowl game.
Johnson has “always been a guy who has invested a great deal, and I think the team sees that. When you’re young, you think life is fair. That if I invest this much I should get an immediate return on my investment.
“Whether it’s the big man upstairs or just the game of football … If you love the game and respect the game and invest in the game it will pay you back. … I believe that. In the game of football and in the game of life.”
Penn State’s Miles Sanders vs. Kentucky’s Josh Allen
The Lions’ star running back told reporters he’s definitely going to play in the Citrus Bowl — whether or not he comes back for his senior season in 2019 or heads to the NFL early.
Sanders’ decision won’t come until after the bowl game, he said.
Which means he’ll get to test his skills against the nation’s top defensive player on New Year’s Day.
Allen, a senior linebacker, was named a consensus All-American.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder recorded 14 sacks and 84 tackles this season. He’s already won the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player and also SEC defensive player of the year honors.
Allen is a certain first-round NFL Draft pick.
“The biggest thing is his length and athleticism, and how twitchy he is,” Franklin said. “The way he’s been able to impact the game in so many ways, that’s probably what’s been so impressive …
“We better have an awareness of where he is on every single play.”