Nittany Lions' Juwan Johnson regains perspective to prepare for Indiana

Penn St Iowa Football
Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson, left, is congratulated by teammate Jonathan Holland after catching a touchdown pass as time expired to defeat Iowa.

A half-hour after catching the game-winning pass at Iowa, Penn State’s Juwan Johnson sat on a folding chair in the visiting team’s interview room and still had that wide-eyed look that ranged from “Did it really happen?” to “Yes, it really did happen.”

Grabbing the 7-yard touchdown pass from Trace McSorley for the No. 4 Nittany Lions’ 21-19 victory certainly was a surreal moment for Johnson, quieting the Kinnick Stadium crowd on Saturday night as though someone had hit a mute button. He called it “a dream.”

Now, though, it’s time to concentrate on preparations for Saturday’s Big Ten game against Indiana at Beaver Stadium.

“It’s been kind of hectic, to be honest with you,” the former Glassboro High School star said Tuesday in a teleconference. “A lot of text messages, a lot of social-media buzz, just a lot of things going on. You have to keep your head straight, obviously. My brother and my mother are always telling me to keep my head straight, keep my head above water.

“That’s pretty much the biggest thing … you have to put things in perspective. I know things happened. I had a good game. I know I left a lot of plays out there, could have done better. But we came out with the win, and that’s the main thing.”

The 6-foot-4, 228-pound redshirt sophomore caught three passes in Penn State’s winning drive, including his first collegiate touchdown. Through four games, he leads the team’s wide receivers with 14 catches — third overall — for 197 yards, a major improvement from his two catches last season.

Johnson attributes his progress to becoming more spiritual, saying that he’s “grown tremendously in my spiritual walk with God.

“That pretty much put me in the position where I am now,” he said. “Me just dedicating myself in football and just invested in myself and what I had to do with my body and my mind, just the physical aspect. I had to devote a lot of time in getting better and being an asset on the team.”

The time he puts in has amazed his teammates. Tight end Mike Gesicki said he would call Johnson around 10:30 p.m. during the summer to see whether he wanted to get some food, and Johnson would be at the team’s indoor practice facility, running routes or catching passes.

“Juwan put a ton of time into the on-field success that everybody’s been seeing this season,” Gesicki said. “He deserves all the success that he’s having, with all the time that he’s put into this. Juwan has been dialed in and completely focused on this season.”

Head coach James Franklin said Johnson’s development has benefited from his increased confidence and experience, and his work ethic also has played a big role.

“You walk through the weight room, and he’s in there getting extra work,” Franklin said. “You look out there on the field, he’s getting extra work. He’s with Trace watching film. He’s just a guy that really showed up on campus very mature but has grown in so many ways in understanding what he has to do to be successful at this level.”

Smith named semifinalist. Lions senior middle linebacker Brandon Smith has been named a semifinalist for the 2017 William V. Campbell Trophy honoring the nation’s best scholar-athlete. Smith, who was selected earlier this month to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team honoring his academic and community work, carries a 3.81 grade-point average. The Winfield, Pa., native, the only married player on the team, has his degree in kinesiology and is working on a degree in health policy and administration.