ATLANTA — One’s journey isn’t defined by what it took to get to the destination, but rather by what that individual does when he gets there.
For Georgia State cornerback Romario Johnson, the Covington native and Newton High alum knows all too well that the path he’s taken to get to where he is is just scratching the surface.
Johnson has spent his whole career managing the expectations from either himself or from those around him. After passing for 4,710 yards and 42 touchdowns and rushing for 1,161 yards and 12 more rushing scores during his last two seasons at Newton, he expected to be recruited to play quarterback at Air Force.
When that didn’t pan out he transferred to a different school, Eastern Arizona, where he expected, once again, to be a signal caller. The coach there, however, expected him to become a wide receiver, and play other positions besides quarterback.
By the time Johnson ended up at ASA College in Miami, there were expectations for him to become a safety. The 2016 Offensive Player of the year at Newton was supposed to switch positions and transition to a full time defensive player. But despite the challenge, he didn’t leave this time. He decided to work, and the work paid off.
That year in Miami, while he only played three games on the season, he accumulated 26 tackles.
When he thinks of the success he had at Newton, it reminds Johnson that he’s ready to compete on the Division I stage he’s been granted at Georgia State.
“There’s a lot of talent down there (in Newton County),” Johnson said. “In high school I played against the best defenses every day in practice so I knew that playing against them would help me for the next level.”
The 21-year-old who watched every previously held expectation he had for himself in football go through the wringer, is now playing the game with a renewed zeal.
After all of the changes Johnson has seen since his time as Newton’s star quarterback, he now has only one expectation — to work his tail off.
“It’s a little different coming from a JUCO. Everyone was good there, so it’s basically the same [in that regard],” Johnson said. “But the game is much faster now, and you have to know everything you’re doing.”
Back in Georgia and focused on his position change, Johnson is taking advantage of being on the Georgia State roster. With some stability under his belt, he is ready to face this challenge head on and learn everything he can.
“It’s my first, I can say, full year learning defense now,” Johnson said. “It’s different coming from high school playing quarterback and playing free safety now. [I’m] just learning everything on the defensive side of the ball, and learning what the offense will do to you at any point in time. It’s different.”
Johnson was clearly ready to get on the field during the Panthers’ spring game on Saturday, after sitting out his first season at Georgia State.
It was obvious during his first down of the game as the junior defensive back could be heard taking initiative to be vocal in the secondary, alerting his teammates to what he was seeing from the offense. And according to Johnson, he is trying to take an immediate leadership role on that side of the ball.
“That was my main goal this spring, to become more vocal in the backfield,” Johnson said. “It all starts with me seeing the formation and getting everyone lined up. That was the only way for me to get better.”
During the spring game, Johnson had a couple of impressive tackles and didn’t hesitate to engage his body into the middle of the action anytime the ball came his way. He also showed enough speed to keep up with Panther receivers who are capable of making plays downfield if given the space.
In fact, the Panther defense was the highlight of the spring game, and Johnson was pleased with his fit on the team and his performance during his time on the field.
He said he wants to be the guy on defense that makes an impact and allows a defense that hasn’t performed well under head coach Shawn Elliot become one that can stymie any offense.
“[Coach] really liked what I brought to the table,” Johnson said. “I’m one of the more bigger safeties that we have, so he loves how I tackle.”
In a big city like Atlanta, and playing for a university like Georgia State, Johnson says the football field isn’t the only place where he’s meeting all of his challenges. Having to balance his training while focusing on his academics is another goal of his, but he’s up for the task.
“Just the time management. That’s what was mostly giving me a hard time,” Johnson said. “With classes and practice being early in the morning, and then having to come from practice and go straight to class that’s been the toughest part right now.”
Johnson doesn’t know if he’ll start in this upcoming season, but after all that has led him to this point he doesn’t seem too worried about decisions like that.
“Whatever the coaches do, whatever the coaches tell me, I’m just controlling what I can control right now,” Johnson said.