In his own words

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 16, 2010

Have you held a BCS National Championship trophy lately?

Alabama freshman linebacker and former Andalusia High School standout Nico Johnson did just that, only nine days ago.

“Being in high school and growing up watching on TV all of the players getting to hold the crystal football — it’s crazy that it can happen just like that,” Johnson said in a telephone interview Friday. “You can be holding one yourself. My dream never was to win a national championship — it was to get to college and do my best and that’s what happened.”

Johnson ended his first season at the college level on a high note.

He has recorded 28 total tackles — 17 solo and 11 assisted. Johnson even recorded one in the BCS championship game.

Johnson said being able to play in the championship game really just felt like “another game.” Alabama finished the year with a 14-0 record.

“Really, at first I was so used to winning, it just felt like another game,” he said. “That’s how it’s been all year. We’ve had so much success that it feels like another game. It only dawned on everybody two or three days ago that we were national champs.”

To make the team really feel like champs, the University of Alabama is holding a championship celebration today at 2 p.m. at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Johnson said he knew Alabama had a shot at the national title, considering players like Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, linebacker Rolando McClain and Leigh Tiffin to name a few. Johnson said the team realized they were put in contention to play in the BCS championship game through the amount of hard work they put in the program.

“I knew all year if we did what we had to do we should be up there to contest for the national championship,” Johnson said. “We had to do the basics and worry about our outcome, because we can’t control what everybody else does.”

The freshman year for a college football player can be a learning experience for many. Johnson said he learned to take one thing at a time.

“You’ve got to be patient with college football, like any other sport,” he said. “When I first got here it was really tough for me because I was trying so hard to get everything right. That was messing me up, so I was messing up here and there constantly. You’ve got to be patient and continue to work hard and take advantage of those opportunities.”

One such opportunity came for Johnson during the LSU game on Nov. 7, where he sacked quarterback Jordan Jefferson.

“When coach (Nick Saban) called that blitz I hadn’t run that blitz the whole year,” he said. “But when he called the blitz, I was thinking ‘Oh man, I know he didn’t just call the blitz.’ He called it and we ran that same blitz in high school with the same result. I came free and the whole time I was thinking, ‘please don’t shake me’ and ‘don’t miss the tackle.’

“I didn’t miss the tackle and made the sack.”

When asked what type of coach Saban is, Johnson said he treats the team in a professional manner.

“He’s a good coach,” Johnson said. “He’s a business-type coach. It’s a business to him. That’s how we take it, as a business. There would be some bad days and some good days, just like a job. But, he doesn’t coach you as a freshman — he coaches you as the senior you’re going to be.”

Alabama’s inside linebackers coach James Willis was recently hired to join Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville’s staff. Johnson said he wished the best for his family and his future at Texas Tech.

“Coach Willis is a good coach and a good man,” Johnson said. “He treated us inside linebackers as kids and we’re going to miss him. He’s got a better position to be able to help his family and himself out, too. He had to do what he had to do, so we congratulate him and he will be missed.”

Asked if there were any other comments Johnson would like to add, he simply said, “Just, Roll Tide!”