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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 29, 2002

Alabama defensive tackle feeds off all the attention

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Who would have guessed that a shy former resident of Cedar Key, an island village off the coast of Florida, would one day feel at home in a crowd?

Cedar Key's main industry is fishing, and the town's information department lists "bird-watching" as a favorite activity.

But eight years after leaving Cedar Key, Jarret Johnson is enjoying the hustle-and-bustle life in the football trenches.

As Alabama's starting defensive tackle, Johnson's mission is to attract as many blockers as possible, enabling the linebackers to swoop in for tackles.

"I get a lot of satisfaction taking on double and triple teams," Johnson said. "The more people who come after me, the more I feel like I'm doing my job."

Alabama coach Dennis Franchione, whose team plays Hawai'i tomorrow, has referred to Johnson as a "dirty-shirt player."

"I guess it's because they say I'm a throwback and not a flashy guy," said Johnson, whose torn jerseys are a throwback to the flashdance era.

"Yeah," he added, "I guess I've had a few ripped-up jerseys."

At 6 feet 4 and 287 pounds, Johnson is rated by one draft analyst as the second-best defensive end in the country. The thing is, he is needed more at defensive tackle. Playing an interior position has reduced his opportunities — his sacks are down from nine last year to four in 11 games this season — but Johnson does not seem to mind.

"Media guys are always saying, 'You don't have the stats this year,' " Johnson said. "In my opinion, I'm having a better season. I'm doing my job, and that's giving me a lot of satisfaction. I don't mind making sacrifices."

He has had a lot of experience in that area. When he was 7, his father, Ludwig, a fisherman, was lost at sea when his boat sank.

"It was traumatic," Johnson recalled.

His mother, Aida, drove a couple of hours each day to work. Johnson said he and his sister "were home alone a lot. We helped take care of the house and do other chores. Very early, I had to learn about responsibility."

Cedar Key did not have any football programs, and Johnson was not able to play the sport until his family moved to Chiefland, Fla., when he was in the eighth grade.

As a senior at Chiefland High, Johnson was named to the SuperPrep All-America team. He received several scholarship offers, but settled on Alabama. "It fit my personality well," he said.

In addition to shallow-water fishing, Johnson spends his free time working as a volunteer counselor at a ranch for underprivileged youths. The administrator of the ranch is a friend of Johnson's roommate, quarterback Brodie Croyle. Johnson and Croyle play sports with the residents or offer advice.

"I feel a connection," Johnson said. "They have a lot of hardship, and I know what it's like to go through that. I also know what it's like to have a good parent. I like visiting and hanging out with the kids, and doing anything I can to help."

He also teaches them about selflessness and how to become a dirty-shirt player.

"There's a lot of satisfaction in doing a good job," Johnson said.