Johnson’s Prepared for Position and Scheme Change

Zion Johnson knows what a football field is supposed to feel like. The 6-foot-3, 314-pound former Boston College offensive lineman lifts barefoot to train muscles in his feet so that he can have more control over his frame on the gridiron.

But when the Los Angeles Chargers’ first-round selection checked out SoFi Stadium, his new home, this weekend, he was met with a peculiar sensation.

“It’s insane,” Johnson said of the $ 5 billion stadium Sunday. “It’s like some glass palace. It’s like a wonder of the world.

“The turf literally felt like I was walking on clouds.”

Much of Johnson’s first full day in Southern California was fantastical — to him, at least.

“The first thing I said is,‘ It literally looks like TV, ’” Johnson noted of Los Angeles.

The Bowie, Maryland, native had never been to LA before this weekend. He grew up in Maryland, started his college career in North Carolina at Davidson and then transferred to BC for his final three seasons.

Now the No. 17 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Johnson is off to the West Coast. And, as much as Johnson likes the cold weather, he said he’s ready for a change of pace.

It’s not where he expected to go, though. Johnson was surprised to hear his name called as early as he did.

“I was sitting with Coach [Jeff] Hafley and talking to my agent, ”Johnson recalled. “Midway through a sentence, I get a call. I just pause, and I picked up. The caller ID said ‘Chargers Football.’ Everyone went silent because they had no idea what happened. I just went silent for a little bit. And then I said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Spanos. ‘ And they all realized it was the Chargers, and everybody went crazy. ”

What happened next was a “whirlwind,” Johnson said. He walked across the stage, held up his powder blue jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and then began the media and entertainment circus that comes with Day One of the draft.

He saw his Madden character, took part in a photoshoot and then ventured over to the draft party, where he met Chargers fans. Johnson said he was taken aback by their support.

“I’m really happy to be going to a franchise that really wanted me,” Johnson said, “and I’m just very, very excited for the opportunity.”

By the time he got back to his hotel, it was nearing 11 pm PST. He got to hang out with family for a “little bit,” but it wasn’t long before he was on his way to Los Angeles.

The Chargers plan to use Johnson as an interior offensive lineman, most likely at right guard. Johnson played on the left side of BC’s offensive line his three years in Chestnut Hill. But he brings versatility to the Bolts, having started full seasons at both tackle and guard, not to mention that he lined up at center for this year’s Senior Bowl.

Under head coach Brandon Staley, the Chargers have rebuilt their offensive line. Last year, they took Northwestern left tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round. That same offseason, they signed free agents center Corey Linsley and left guard Matt Feiler.

Johnson will help bolster the right side of the Chargers’ O-Line and further protect franchise quarterback Justin Herbert.

Having played in a handful of offensive systems for multiple offensive line coaches, the cerebral Johnson feels better fit to adjust to the pro game. He mentioned how the run-first, 12-personnel-heavy scheme under Steve Addazio made him a better run blocker and how the pass-friendly, pro-style scheme directed by former BC offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. made him a better pass protector.

“To really see kind of both ends of the spectrum, in terms of how we gameplanned in those different offenses, it really helped me to just blossom across the board.”

Johnson didn’t have a whole lot of coaching staff stability during his college career. Toward the end, however, Hafley was a constant. Hafley was the only head coach Johnson had for consecutive seasons.

“Coach Hafley’s definitely special,” Johnson said. “I was just so thankful to have him there. He’s really helped me a lot just throughout my career in the short time I had him.

Johnson continued: “In 2020, when I was thinking of leaving, he was someone that really laid out the facts and helped me make my decision to come back. And I’m really grateful to him for that. ”

Johnson is so much more than just an O-Lineman. He’s a computer science major with a master’s in cyber security. He’s a former golfer who can jump a 32-inch vertical. He’s a supportive teammate that was delighted to see his three fellow linemates — Alec Lindstrom, Ben Petrula and Tyler Vrabel — get opportunities as undrafted free agents.

But Johnson — the program’s 10th offensive lineman to be drafted in the first round —said he was well aware of BC’s storied history of offensive linemen when he transferred ahead of the 2019 season.

“I knew about that legacy,” Johnson said. “I hope that I make all those alumni that have left their impression on the league proud.”

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