With the draft now a week old, local product and former Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson has gotten over the sting of not being selected. Johnson was signed by Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent last week, and looks forward to competing for a roster spot for his his hometown Buccaneers.
Clearwater native and former Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson is over the disappointment of not hearing his name called during last week's NFL Draft. One week later Johnson can look at the bright side, and says things have worked out for the best.
“I am past it (not getting drafted),” Johnson. “The draft was something I was really looking forward to just because a lot went into my preparation. So I was expecting something to come through on draft day. But God works in mysterious ways and I am more than happy to be right here at home.
“It is a great situation for me. I am excited to come to work everyday and compete. I am going to bring a competitive edge and just be myself. This just gives me an opportunity to stay in touch with my community. My mother won’t have to take off days to fly out and see me play. I am right here at my hometown team.”
The 5-foot-10, 196-pound was one of 14 undrafted players signed by Tampa Bay last week after the draft had concluded, and participated in the weekend rookie mini-camp that wrapped by Sunday morning.
“I was excited (when the call came the Bucs wanted him). It startled me at first. Just to know I grew up watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I am actually a Buccaneer now. It was a bit overwhelming but after talking to my Mom and my agent, I was all aboard and ready.
“I went to quite a few Bucs games (as a kid). I remember coming into the stadium when I was young and you could get a ticket for maybe $20 and sit all the way at the top. And by the end of the first quarter you are touching everyone (players) on the back. I am excited to just be back home, right here where it all started.”
Head coach Greg Schiano talked about Johnson during his press conference Sunday morning as the Bucs were wrapping up their three-day rookie mini-camp.
“I can’t really tell you why other peopled didn’t select him in the draft,” Schiano said. “I knew our needs and where we had our draftable grades and those things, and it just didn’t fit for us to draft him. I did think he was going to get drafted. So I was very pleased when we had an opportunity to sign him as a free agent.
“And having played against him in the bowl game, when you prepare for a bowl game you have every tape and you watch every tape and he just kept jumping off the video as a guy that made plays and that had a lot of skill, so it’s good to have him here. He’s a local guy which has got to be cool for him and he’ll compete and we’ll see where he ends up.
“I’ve known Leonard for a while as well and I know his coach very well.
Just positive all the way through. We used to do summer camps down here
when I was at Rutgers and Leonard was actually in one of our summer
camps down here. I didn’t know it when we took him but he showed me a
picture of he and I that we took with every camper, so that was kind of
Johnson laughed as he recalled the football camp Schiano mentioned.
“I did at a football camp at Jefferson high School,” Johnson said. “They (Rutgers) threw a football camp. I was 14 and a freshmen. I was a quarterback, back then. I went to the camp and afterwards coach Schiano took a picture with each and every player at the camp. I saved it. My mom went through the pictures recently and said, ‘Hey look what I found. This is your new head coach.’ It was crazy.”
Johnson showed his smarts when he talked about Bucs’ cornerback Ronde Barber, and how he is going to pick Barber’s vast football brain every chance he gets.
“I grew up watching him (Barber). I haven’t met him personally, but all the things I have heard about him throughout the facilities –I can’t wait to introduce myself to him. And I am looking forward to getting next to him and taking his advice and kind of being underneath him. I am going to force myself onto him. Until he tells me to go away.”
Last year as a senior, Johnson and his Iowa State teammates hosted the then undefeated Oklahoma State Cowboys. Johnson drew the short straw and was matched up on star Cowboys’ receiver Justin Blackmon. Blackmon was held to 99 yards receiving, and Johnson nabbed an important interception in the Cyclones upset win over OSU.
“That game was a big confidence booster,” Johnson said. “It boosted my confidence. It boosted the team’s confidence. That game also made us bowl eligible. Blackmon was a great matchup.
“Coach came to me that Sunday just after we finished breaking down the last film and said you are the guy this week, so mentally an physically prepare yourself. I turned my phone off for the whole week. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I came out and just competed. I wasn’t worried about limiting him; I wasn’t worried about getting scored on. I went in thinking he was gong to make plays and I was going to make plays, but at the end of the day I need to make more plays that he makes.”
Johnson said his time in Des Moines has been vital in his development – and not just as a football player – but as a person.
“Iowa State was probably one of the best things to happen to me,” Johnson said. “I grew up quick and matured a lot and learned hoe to be accountable. It is hard to wake up at 5:30 and getting up and prepped to go to a 6 a.m. workout. It was all about how fast could you adapt. And I adapted pretty well.”
Johnson wouldn’t admit to planning to use not getting draft as extra motivation, but it will most likely at least subconsciously fuel his goal to make the roster.
“I wouldn’t say a chip on my shoulder but I am just going to be me, “ Johnson said. “I am a guy who is very aggressive. Plays on the edge. I like to keep everyone excited so I am just going to bring all the things I do well to the Bucs and I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t. And hopefully that is good enough to put me where I want to be and need to be.
“It is an opportunity. I want them to know I am here. The film doesn’t lie and my film speaks volumes. The draft is over and honestly I don’t really like talking about, it gets me fired up. But I am here, I am a Buc, and I am ready to compete. I know the guys they have here are well respected. I know the guys they have brought in trough the draft are great players. But I am a great player also. I am a top guy.”
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