Before Paris Johnson Jr. even started his Ohio State career, he laid out several lofty goals for himself: Earn a tree in Buckeye Grove as an All-American, graduate from Ohio State in three years and be selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft.
With two of those goals already complete, Johnson will complete the third of those goals on Thursday night, when he’s projected to be one of the first players off the board in this year’s draft. The former Ohio State left tackle has been projected to potentially be selected as early as the No. 3 overall pick and is a safe bet to be the first Ohio State offensive lineman drafted in the top 15 since Orlando Pace was the No. 1 overall pick in 1997.
Once Johnson told the world what he was going to accomplish, he set his mind to make sure he actually achieved those goals, and he’ll reap the rewards of his hard work when he hears his name called in Kansas City on Thursday night.
“For me, it's always been a mindset to write my goals down and say it out loud and try to own it. So it's kind of cool being able to fulfill all those goals again, to be able to be a first-rounder, to get a degree, to get a tree,” Johnson said. “I think all that happened in God's time and I'm super grateful to be able to accomplish what I said I wanted to.”
Johnson’s goal of being a first-round NFL draft pick actually dates back to when he was just 5 years old. His father, also named Paris Johnson, was a fifth-round pick in the 1999 NFL draft as a safety out of Miami (Ohio), and Johnson was always motivated to surpass his father’s accomplishments.
“Growing up, hearing stories about my dad and what it was like when he grew up, I'm thinking, ‘He went fifth round, I’m going first round.’ That was my mindset as a kid,” Johnson said. “That probably kind of skewed the perspective of how hard it was. So for me, I always figured if I do the stuff he didn't do, and I do stuff that's right, I’d be able to make it work. And I'm sure it helps to be 6-7, 313 along the way, I'm sure that helps a little bit.”
A community service event at Kansas City’s Central Middle School on Wednesday morning put that all in perspective for Johnson as he and the other NFL draft invitees in attendance saw local schoolchildren make vision boards for what they want to do when they grow up. As someone who’s about to achieve the biggest goal on his own childhood vision board, Johnson wants to be a role model for the next generation to show them they too can achieve their goals if they set their mind to it.
“I've wanted to always use the game of football to be able to spread the glory of God to other people. And I think that starts with the kids,” Johnson said. “Instill that mindset that you can do it too. Because everybody says you can do like what you want, but they might not have those role models around them in person.
“People say you can't be all in on football, I was all in on football from the jump. I still got my degree, started a foundation, I still do stuff to help the community. But I've been all in on football because I understand, like, that was my first dream. I was all in on it since I was 5. And from there, I was able to build and establish other things.”
The prospects attending the 2023 NFL draft are participating in a Play Football clinic for local children at Kansas City Central High School this morning. Heres Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr.: pic.twitter.com/67uiaXl7LO— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) April 26, 2023
There’s only one goal on Johnson’s childhood vision board that he says he hasn’t achieved.
“I wanted to learn how to ride a skateboard,” Johnson said. “That’s the only thing I’ve never accomplished.”
Johnson has taken a business-first approach to the NFL Draft process, knowing that football is about to become his full-time job and that millions of dollars are on the line. Since he’s always believed he would be a first-round pick one day, he goes into the NFL draft feeling like he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been surreal moments, though. One, he said, came during an interviewing with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
“I've been all business about everything, regardless of who I meet and who they are, I’ve been business. But when I walked in, I saw Andy Reid, I had nothing but smiles. Like ‘Man, you’re the man, dawg, what’s up?’” Johnson said. “I had that for a split second before I locked back into business. It’s just reminding me how cool this process has been. It’s a billion-dollar business, you know what I mean, so it’s all serious. But at the same time, that little kid inside is like ‘Man, we're really here.’ Like I'm talking business with Andy Reid, that’s super cool.”
Johnson said it gave him chills on Wednesday morning as he thought about how close his first-round NFL dream is to coming true.
“I'm ecstatic about the business aspect of it,” Johnson said. “Because now there's no more school. I graduated, I got the paper, I put the hat on, I’m cool now. It's all football now. So I'm excited about it.”