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Ohio State Walk-On Xavier Johnson Sets Example For Younger Players

"He didn’t pout, he didn’t complain, he just put his head down and said, ‘What do I have to do next to get better?’"

After turning down multiple scholarship offers out of high school to walk on at Ohio State, fifth-year senior Xavier Johnson has played several different positions for the Buckeyes.

He began his career in Columbus in 2018 as a cornerback, then switched back and forth between running back and wide receiver the next two seasons before settling in at the latter last fall.

But rather than get frustrated by the movement or his lack of playing time, with only 22 career offensive snaps to his name thus far, the Cincinnati native has impressed the coaching staff with his willingness to do whatever is best for the team.

“‘How fast can I get there, and tell me what you need me to do?’” running backs coach Tony Alford said on Friday when asked what Johnson’s reaction would be if he asked him to return to the backfield. “Then, he would come in extra and say, ‘What have you put in that I don’t know?’ … Let’s meet afterward, let’s meet early. It’s not even a question that he would do that. It’s a foregone conclusion.

“He would do the same thing if they said, ‘Hey, come over here and play corner.’ He is a consummate team player. I’m more than proud of the way he’s handled himself and to have watched him grow into the man he is.

“I know I can speak for this entire staff – and a lot of times I said I don’t want to speak for Coach (Ryan) Day or I don’t want to speak (for someone else) – I’ll speak for the entire staff (and say) that every single coach in that building would lay it on the line for that kid and what he’s done for this program, and I know his parents are extremely proud of him, too.”

60. Xavier Johnson

While he’s still looking for his first career catch and has a modest 17 yards on four carries, Johnson has made his mark on special teams for Ohio State. In fact, he played the second-most kickoff, kick return, punt and punt return snaps (225) of anyone on the team last season, trailing only redshirt junior tight end Cade Stover (250).

That selflessness is infectious, which is why Alford often points to Johnson and fellow fifth-year senior wide receiver Kamryn Babb as players that younger players and other newcomers should use as an example for how to handle themselves as Buckeyes.

“It’s critically important (to have players in your program like that),” Alford said. “That’s testimony of a guy that’s been moved around, things maybe haven’t gone his way all of the time. He didn’t pout, he didn’t complain, he just put his head down and said, ‘What do I have to do next to get better?’

“I don’t care if you were a walk-on, a five-star recruit, first-team, fifth-team, it doesn’t matter, everybody goes through stuff. All Xavier has done – in my eyes – is continue to persevere and find ways to overcome whatever was happening. He didn’t point fingers, but kind of pointed them at himself and said, ‘Where can I get better? If there’s an issue going on, how can I make it better by some of the changes that I have to make?’

“He didn’t find excuses for this or that not happening, he just found ways to overcome and persevere. But that’s a microcosm of how he lives his life, not just in this building … I love that kid.”

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