Before he was the nation’s top-ranked high school offensive tackle, Paris Johnson was a ballboy on Friday nights for the local high school.
Before he was coveted by, well, every college football program in America, he was this well-mannered, studious kid from Cincinnati.
Now, Paris Johnson is a month into his Ohio State career and just a couple months removed from a dominant prep tour de force that saw the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder maul opponents, move with a grace beyond his size and earn consensus five-star status, not to mention both the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Man of the Year and Anthony Munoz Lineman of the Year awards.
“I think once you watch his tape and watch his nasty, and then you couple that with his freakish athleticism, you’re like, ‘Man, that’s a great recipe,’” said Princeton coach Mike Daniels, Johnson’s leader for his final season of high school. “The icing on top with him is being a motivated kid and very in-tuned to his goals in life.
“He was a ball boy — and he’s always been, ‘Yes sir, no sir.’ Very respectful, humble, then you see what he’s got to offer on the football field. That’s the perfect combo for a highly successful young man.”
On the field, though, Johnson’s disposition is relentless – by design. Daniels gets asked often about his former star; he always points to the same moment, a bit of Hollywood come to the Queen City.
“He had one of those highlight-type moments every game,” Daniels told Lettermen Row. “We ran a reverse versus Withrow, and I’m always thinking of the movie Blindside, and he took one of their kids all the way to the sideline and pushed him to the track.
“It kind of reminded you of the movie. And that epitomizes who he is: He wants to dominate his opponent every single rep.”
Johnson wants opponents to submit.
“All the time, and it’s a great feeling,” Johnson told reporters of seeing previous opponents give up. “People say, ‘Oh you’ve made it, you can relax, you have scholarships.’
“For me, I had to turn it up a notch to earn scholarships, and then I had to turn it up a notch because now I was representing all the schools that offered me. Once I committed, I’m a representation of Ohio State. I feel like I had no room just to take reps off.”
Johnson likewise isn’t taking off any early workouts now that he’s on campus in his first semester of college. He doesn’t back away from the expectations that accompany not only being a heralded recruit but also a home-state star.
“Right now, what we’re going through in the workouts, this is my first showing of, ‘Can Paris play for us as a freshman right now?’” Johnson said. “Before I think about what I can do in the future to prove it, right now these workouts this week is my showing of: ‘Can we just expect Paris to be on our line as a freshman?’ Right now I’m trying my best to put on a show that can put me in the competition to start.”
Much like teammate Dawand Jones has said, Paris Johnson also has watched copious amounts of film on former Ohio State and NFL legend Orlando Pace.
“Best college offensive lineman in the country, hands down, ever,” Johnson said of Pace. “And NFL. His NFL film was pretty much the same.”
Johnson’s stats from last season at Princeton read like an IHOP all-you-can-eat contest; 106 pancakes. But he knows that means nothing at the pinnacle of college football.
“That was great, but now that I’ve early enrolled here, that stuff doesn’t mean anything unless I carry those same exact actions and mentality,” Johnson said. “I have to replicate it here. I can’t go from throwing dudes on the ground, they’re getting up, I’m diving on them in high school if I’m not trying to replicate it here. It’s even more important now.
“With the help of Coach Mick [Marotti] in the weight room, Coach Stud (offensive line coach Greg Studrawa), once we start doing field work in spring ball, they’re going to put me in the best position so I can get back to doing that at the college level. I feel like a lot of people will say in high school I was looking like Orlando Pace was in college. I want to be able to do what Orlando Pace did in college. He was throwing people around like he was at Princeton High School, you know what I mean? Like grown men in college. That’s everybody’s goal. I would like to be able to do that here.”
Daniels knows the makeup — mental and physical — gives Johnson a chance at greatness.
“He understands where he is going and what needs to happen for him to get there,” Daniels said. “His diet, work ethic, film study, weight room, and how it all ties together. He’s locked in to what first round NFL Draft picks, their combine numbers are. He knows how white bread digests into your body versus wheat bread or rice.
“He’s a young man who is truly on a mission. And he’s just gifted. He’s got that natural nasty. The want-to. And the willingness and desire to be great.”
Paris Johnson has got it all, including an ultimate goal. He’s set his own Pace.