No NCAAs and no sit-down service due to the coronavirus has hurt area sports taverns that hang on with take-out service and hope. Rockland/Westchester Journal News
The linebacker is preparing for the NFL by working out at a friend’s house.
Penn State’s Jan Johnson seems nearly unfazed by his football world being slammed shut by the new coronavirus outbreak.
He already was known for being one of the most adaptable Penn State football players in recent memory.
Now, he’s working on his long-snapping skills to help even more.
But, first, about those hometown workouts reminiscent of high school …
“We wipe down the weights and stuff and keep the place clean. It’s just me and (my friend) and his son,” Johnson said.
“I’m kind of in La-La Land right now trying to stay in shape and get my workouts in and be prepared for anything that pops up.”
Johnson just keeps rolling along. “Yeah, finds a way to make good in anything,” Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said this week.
About a dozen former Nittany Lions have been left in limbo during the unexpected and ongoing shutdown because of COVID-19, which has canceled everything from their chance to work out in front of NFL scouts to the ability to access training facilities in preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft.
At least a few Penn State players, like Yetur Gross-Matos and KJ Hamler, were given the opportunity to work out for pro teams at the NFL Combine in February. But most seniors, like Johnson, did not make the cut and planned on their Pro Day shot in State College in mid-March.
As it turned out, players traveled back to Penn State for Pro Day — only to be told a couple of days later that it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That left Johnson and others, like safety Garrett Taylor and tight end Nick Bowers, scrambling for options. Most did a quick change-of-plans and headed home to find a place to train without the use of public gyms.
Meanwhile, the NFL Draft is still being held as scheduled, April 23 through April 25.
Johnson said he put together a video tape of himself doing drills on a field close to his family home near Reading. That gave his agent something to circulate to NFL personnel.
“I still have the same goal and mindset, just trying to stay ready for when an opportunity comes,” Johnson said. “It’s not bad. It’s just another bump in the road I’m dealing with now. It’s not like I haven’t dealt with them before …”
From Penn State walk-on to team captain
Johnson’s winding success story at Penn State has been well-documented.
After winning two PIAA wrestling titles, he passed on college scholarship offers in that sport and in football to walk-on at his dream school, Penn State.
Once there, he did all of this: wrestled as a heavyweight on the national championship wrestling team; ripped up his knee during the first game of his football career at Michigan; worked his way back by playing tight end on the scout team in practice.
He eventually earned a starting spot in 2018 and became a team captain last year, highlighted by a big interception and return at Maryland.
He followed a successful 2019 season by playing in the Hula Bowl and then working with a Florida-based trainer for six weeks. At Cooper Sports Performance in Tampa, he dropped his body fat to 7 percent, packed on 10 pounds of muscle and received instruction from longtime NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski.
Johnson also worked on his long-snapping skills to give him a possible edge when it comes to making a pro team. He was Penn State’s emergency snapper during his redshirt freshman year in 2016.
“He’s a hard worker. He’s one of those kids who came in and just did everything he’s supposed to do. Got there early, left late, just a solid kid,” said Josh Cooper, who owns the training facility.
The sports-world shutdown has only fueled him.
“I’m used to having some adversity,” Johnson said. “It’s not much different than working through things in the past …
“I think it’s just an opportunity to continue to work hard. I just have more time to work right now. You’ve got to want to do it.”