Cleveland High School senior Sterling Johnson is one of the most highly touted defensive linemen in the Class of 2015 nationally . He has verbally committed to Clemson University so his fall will be a little less hectic than other top college prospects that have yet to announce their college choices. Johnson talked with sports editor D. Clay Best about the prospects of the Rams this season and his own game.
Q: What do you like about your team so far?
A: I just like the brotherhood we’ve got going on. Everybody is closer than any of the teams I’ve played on before and I’ve played here since our first game back at North Johnston. … Last year, we would get on each other arguing after we gave up a big play (on defense). In our first scrimmage this year, we talked about things on the sideline and what impressed me is that we didn’t let any play work more than once.
Q: How much have things calmed down since you committed to Clemson?
A: It’s calmer now, so now I can concentrate on helping lead my team to a state title. All I have to do on the weekend is focus on our game for Friday night. I’m not going to be thinking about where I’ve got to go for a visit the day after the game, taking a lot of phone calls, all of that stuff.
Q: What have you tried to improve on during the off-season?
A: I’ve really worked on my closing speed when I’m trying to make a tackle. I’ve added about 10 more pounds but I think I’ve grown an inch so I feel quicker. (He’s 6-foot-5, 280 pounds right now.) And I think that will help me be more versatile because the coaches have tried to use me in a little different way on the defensive line so far.
Q: Both you and your coach (Scott Riley) have talked about your role as a team leader growing. What did you do to make that happen?
A: I’ve watched a lot of sports documentaries over the past year: The Fab 5, the one on Allen Iverson, “The Best There Never Was,” “Roll Tide, War Eagle,” those types of things. And what I’ve learned is that to be a leader there’s a lot of stuff you have to keep out of your mind. You have to be able to bounce back if you have a bad play, a bad quarter, a bad half and get all the more out of your ability later in a game. … I just remember Cam Newton talking about having the whole stadium (at Alabama in 2012) focused on him, and the energy he got from that, and how he used it on the field to lead his team and preform at the absolute highest level.