Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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26 APRIL 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL W hen rising high school sophomore Jordan John- son and his mother, Sonya White, chose St. Louis' De Smet Jesuit as his next destination in 2017, they understood what the ath- letic aspect of the move would entail. A project. A process. The school had won just two games under first- year coach Robert Steeples in 2016 and three from 2013-15. But Johnson ran toward it and hopped both feet in at the oppor- tunity to be a foundational piece. Three years later, he left as a five-star wide receiver recruit bound for Notre Dame, the star and heartbeat of an unbeaten state title-winning team in 2019. The Spartans pulled themselves out of their doldrums and to the peak with Johnson as a standard-setter for how to develop oneself as a player — and for his dance moves. "He has an infectious energy about him that made our team better as a whole," Steeples said. "I've never seen a player at that level take prac- tice as seriously but also have that much fun. "He was probably one of our best dancers. You throw the music on in practice, he's laughing, but then ev- ery time you had a rep, he's locked in. His teammates knew he was go- ing to embarrass you if you weren't matching his intensity. He really taught them how to practice the right way." Johnson arrived in South Bend, though, and found an unforgiving twist when he realized his intensity level in certain areas wasn't going to cut it. What felt like a real opportu- nity for the first Notre Dame five-star receiver signee since Michael Floyd (2008) to grab a freshman role turned into an anonymous season spent out of sight. His 2020 stat line: two games, 26 snaps, one unsportsman- like conduct penalty, no catches. All while the Irish had solid-but-unspec- tacular receiver play. Everyone wondered: What was going on? He was a monthly topic, sometimes more, in Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's press avail- abilities. A daily subject for people shouting through keyboards about ways to improve a passing game that took its time waking up and was clamped up in the postseason. All of Kelly's answers had the same theme: This was not about on- field ability. "We knew Jordan's ability," Kelly said in late October. "There are other things that are important here at the university, and we all know that. He has been focused heavily on making the transition. The things that are re- ally difficult are in the classroom. "We all see he has the skill set. Now we'll have to build on that." In other words, the start of another process, this one less expected and more challenging. Johnson needed time to gain his balance. Now on sta- ble ground, according to those close to him, he begins his first spring practices in late March with a role still there for the taking and armed with lessons from his bumpy first few months. He's not a new version of himself, but a refocused one who trusted the process just like he had in high school. "The challenges he has faced, that's opportunity for growth," Steeples TRUST THE PROCESS How former five-star recruit Jordan Johnson has navigated and learned from his freshman ups and downs Johnson saw action in just two games and didn't record any statistics during his true freshman cam- paign, but is working toward a breakout in 2021. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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