FSU’s Jermaine Johnson II went from ‘Last Chance U’ to Senior Bowl standout ahead of NFL draft

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FSU’s Jermaine Johnson II went from ‘Last Chance U’ to Senior Bowl standout ahead of NFL draft
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Florida State defensive end and NFL draft prospect Jermaine Johnson II could’ve easily given up five years ago.

A talented high school prospect out of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, he couldn’t pursue his dreams of big-time college football right away with a 1.9 grade-point average that wouldn’t qualify at Division-I schools.

It meant he had to go the junior college route upon graduation in 2017. He was off to Independence Community College in Kansas, and he was featured on the third season of acclaimed Netflix series ‘Last Chance U,’ which documented the push for young athletes that faced troubles to rebound and revitalize their chances at a football career.

Today, Johnson is a potential first-round prospect for the draft that begins April 28 and stole the show at the week of Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama. His performance fell in line with what he showed in a 2021 season with the Seminoles where he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Johnson never did succumb to the diminishing odds. His love for football wouldn’t allow it.

“If you didn’t love this sport, you wouldn’t have went the route I did,” he said following Wednesday’s drills at South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney Stadium ahead of Saturday afternoon’s Senior Bowl game.

It was such a complicated journey to get from where he was to where he is, his first response when asked what he learned from his experience at Independence CC: “That’s a loaded question.”

But there were many things he could point to that helped him build his fortitude.

“To do the dirty, hard work in the dark, and don’t stop,” said Johnson.

“I didn’t really see the fruits of my labor down there. I’m in Kansas with a population of five or six thousand, three fast-food spots and my Xbox. You just got to keep your head down. … Also, if you’re selfish, it’ll probably take you a long time to get there.”

Through the small-town loneliness and tough coaching style of former Independence CC coach Jason Brown exhibited in the series, Johnson had 58 tackles, eight sacks and three forced fumbles that season. With his academics in order over a year and a half there, Johnson was widely considered a top junior college product, and the offers to top schools poured in. He committed to Georgia over Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas and UCLA.

In two seasons with the Bulldogs in 2019 and 2020, he flashed in a rotational role on the defensive line, but he wasn’t a starter. He had 7 1/2 sacks over that span, but he transferred to Florida State for an expanded role.

Johnson went for 70 tackles, 18 for loss, and 12 sacks in his final year of college eligibility with the Seminoles. He became the first ACC player to win the top offensive or defensive award in his first year in the conference.

His best game may have come in the rivalry win over Miami on Nov. 13, where he dominated with three sacks among his seven tackles and a forced fumble.

At Senior Bowl drills, he has received rave reviews.

“I don’t think anyone will deny him as the biggest winner this week in Mobile,” wrote Pro Football Focus.

An NFL.com headline after Tuesday’s first day of drills: “Jermaine Johnson II makes money,” a reference to his boost in draft stock.

Among his highlights, Johnson was chosen to go up against Kentucky offensive line prospect Darian Kinnard in a 1-on-1 pass-rush rep. Johnson bull-rushed the highly rated tackle and ran him over.

At 6 feet 5, 260 pounds, Johnson checks all the boxes that an NFL team could look for in an edge defender with the ability seal the edge and play stout against the run while also presenting the pass-rushing prowess that’s so critical in today’s NFL. Johnson is versatile too. He said he feels comfortable playing either defensive end or outside linebacker in either 4-3 or 3-4 schemes.

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