Jamar Johnson played both safety and cornerback in high school.
Oh, and wide receiver and kick returner too. We’ll come back to that.
Since arriving at Indiana he has played safety, husky, back to safety, and now — he pretty much just goes wherever he is needed as the Hoosiers contend with injuries in their secondary.
Taking advantage of opportunities as they arise is something the 6-foot-1 and 197 pound Johnson has been doing since he came to Bloomington in 2018.
Now a fixture in the rotation on defense, Johnson has been taking his opportunistic ways to a more micro level.
Or as he likes to put it — seizing the moment.
And the hands he developed as a high school wide receiver are proving to be a major asset.
Johnson has recorded an interception in each of IU’s last three games going back to 2019, and he added a forced fumble against Penn State on Saturday.
The Sarasota, Fla. product stepped up early in Indiana’s memorable win over Purdue in 2019, snagging a pass in the end zone to end the Boilermaker’s opening drive and set the tone for a fast start for the Hoosiers.
Overshadowed in the defensive backfield at times, Johnson’s run of big plays was only just beginning.
With IU leading 10-6 midway through the third quarter at the Gator Bowl, it was Johnson who stepped in front of a Tennessee pass and took it to the house for a pick-six.
JAMAR JOHNSON HOUSE CALL📱
The Hoosiers (+3.5) D comes up big with a Pick-6 to extend their lead to 10🏈
— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) January 3, 2020
More than ten months later, Johnson still has it going.
In fact, he stepped up his game in Indiana’s stunning season-opening win against Penn State.
Named the Big Ten’s co-defensive player of the week, Johnson tallied a career high 10 tackles, forced a fumble, and snared his third interception in his last three games.
On his first half interception of Nittany Lion quarterback Sean Clifford, Johnson credited film study.
“We just seized the moment,” he said after the game. “We knew some of their tendencies and he overthrew a pick to me.”
With his wide receiver instincts kicking in, the play become natural for Johnson.
“I had to catch it,” he said.
Johnson returned his interception to the Penn State 4-yard line and the Hoosiers scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) October 26, 2020
Similarly, Johnson credited his years of seeing the game from so many different angles on his forced fumble.
“I just made an instinctive play,” Johnson said. “The quarterback tried to pull it (on a run-pass option), and I just went for the ball and stripped it.”
That play ended a long Penn State drive at the Indiana 7-yard line.
It is fairly clear now that the Hoosiers don’t win the game without both takeaways from their rising star junior defensive back.
Perhaps he didn’t know he would play such a key role, but Johnson did fully expect Indiana to compete on Saturday.
Before Saturday’s upset, Johnson seemed to foretell that a win over Penn State was not only possible — but expected.
“We’re definitely way more confident,” Johnson said last week. “A lot of us on that (2019) team were sophomores, and we’re juniors this year. We’re taking the initiative, and we want to come in with a more hungry attitude, like everyone is just ready to showcase what we have.”
After making the move back to safety, Johnson hoped he would continue to make game-changing plays.
“I feel like I’m going to have more plays coming to me more because I’m back behind everyone,” Johnson said last week.
Like any good defensive back, he knew what was coming.
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