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December 26, 2012

Dontae Johnson emerging as future leader



Junior cornerback Dontae Johnson has learned to play in different positions on the field, and also has gotten learning lessons about college football off it.

Johnson appreciated his three years under former coach Tom O'Brien, who was let go Nov. 25, but will give it his all for new coach Dave Doeren, who was hired Dec. 1.

Johnson and the Wolfpack players have had to compartmentalize the last few weeks of preparing to play red-hot 8-4 Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 31 in Nashville, Tenn., while also pondering what it will be like to play for Doeren during the spring.

"It's a business as you can see," Johnson said. "That's college sports for you honestly since it's a business.

"Right now, my main focus is on this team right here and making sure the seniors go out with a win in a bowl game, and just enjoy the last few moments with the staff and everybody here at this time."

The Commodores have won six straight games, and seven out of the last eight to become bowl eligible with room to spare. Vanderbilt closed out the regular season with a 41-18 win over Tennessee on Nov. 17, and 55-21 at Wake Forest on Nov. 24, both common opponents for the two programs.

The big three of senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers, senior running back Zac Stacy and junior wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

The 6-1, 212-pound Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has gone 175-of-294 passing for 2,431 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. The 5-9, 210-pound Stacy has rushed for 1,034 yards on 182 carries and nine scores, while the 6-3, 205-pound Matthews has caught 87 passes for 1,262 yards and seven touchdowns. Matthews is the second cousin of former NFL wide receiver great Jerry Rice.

The 6-foot-3, 196-pounder Johnson has started all 12 games this season at cornerback, and has 65 tackles, six tackles for loss for minus-30 yards, one sack, one forced fumble and five passes broken up.

"We started watching film of Vanderbilt," Johnson said. "We are starting to key on what they are doing and who to stop. Rodgers is talented and can make all the possible throws he needs to make and we'll need to keep him contained and make his reads tougher to make and make him throw tough throws for him."

Johnson played safety his first two years, and has the flexibility of playing either position next year for Doeren. He had 30 tackles and two starts his sophomore season, typically filling as the nickel back when the Wolfpack turned to a 4-2-5 defense.

The Pennington, N.J. native, who is majoring in sports management, is looking forward to playing one last game with senior safeties Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff at the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.

"Those guys have been really excited and they've told me to take advantage of it because time flies," Johnson said. "Those guys are full of energy every day. I'm trying to get this win for them."

"I'll still keep in contact with them and wish them the best. It's going to be tough. If I need to step up as a leader to keep this team and keep this unit together [I will]."

Johnson is encouraged about the Wolfpack's future, which could include seven returning starters on defense, and five on offense, plus a few other players with past starting experience.

"We still have a good amount of people coming back and have some good recruits coming up," Johnson said. "We have some good people working hard, like the freshman and sophomores this past offseason and during the season. Right now, it's motivation for everyone to come back here and perform well and at a high level next year."

Johnson has assumed some leadership duties during the coaching transition.

"I'm making sure everybody sticks together," Johnson said. "We want to prepare well for this bowl game. We know we'll get the best group of coaches in here to help us win an ACC championship. We'll be preparing in the offseason to be great."

One of the rallying cries for the bowl game is to win one for O'Brien. Johnson appreciates the three years under his former coach and looks forward to learning under the new staff. He doesn't regret anything about his Wolfpack football experience.

"It's going to be hard and it will take us a while for this team, University and coaching staff to get over things," Johnson said. "We have to rally together as a team and University and prepare for the bowl game. We'll be preparing to win."


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