Xavier Johnson Driven to Go Out with A Win, Ready to Play Any Role in Final Game at Ohio State

By Dan Hope on December 25, 2023 at 8:35 am
Xavier Johnson vs. Purdue

Xavier Johnson has done a little bit of everything in his six years at Ohio State. He could be set to play one of the biggest roles of his career in his final game as a Buckeye.

If Marvin Harrison Jr. decides not to play in the Cotton Bowl after Julian Fleming entered the transfer portal, Johnson would likely be in line to start at wide receiver alongside Emeka Egbuka and Carnell Tate.

Johnson could also find himself in the running back rotation against Missouri after Chip Trayanum and Evan Pryor entered the transfer portal, leaving Ohio State with only two available scholarship running backs for the Cotton Bowl: TreVeyon Henderson and Dallan Hayden, and that’s assuming Henderson doesn’t opt out as he has yet to announce whether he’ll enter the 2024 NFL draft.

As Johnson has throughout his Ohio State career, the former walk-on who is now a team captain will be ready to play whatever role his coaches ask him to play, no matter how big or small.

“Whatever I gotta do to help the team win, to go beat Missouri, be 1-0 in the bowl season, that's where I'll be. And I'll be full-heartedly there,” Johnson said earlier this month. “It could be kicker, I'd go out there and try to kick. I can't even kick, but wherever Coach Day says, 'We need you, Xavier,’ that's where I'll put my feet.”

While a multitude of Ohio State players have said the Cotton Bowl is important to them even though it’s not the College Football Playoff game they’d rather be playing in, there might not be any Buckeye who the game means more to – or who the rest of the Buckeyes will want to win for more – than Johnson.

The recipient of this year’s “Block 0” jersey, Johnson has given as much to the program as anyone over the past six years as he’s dutifully moved back and forth between wide receiver and running back to play wherever Ohio State has asked him to on offense, spent some time at cornerback early in his Buckeye career and has played the most snaps of any Buckeye on special teams for each of the past two seasons. As one of just three captains this season, Johnson has played a crucial role as a leader in getting the team refocused for the Cotton Bowl after the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan dashed their national championship dreams.

“When you come up short it hurts, but I think about the players,” Ryan Day said Saturday. “For it to come down to a play or two, we know that that's what the game is all about. But that doesn't take away from these guys and the legacy they're leaving behind to their teammates. Xavier is a great example of that.

“What he's done for his teammates in terms of setting an example, being the Block O award winner, coming in as a walk-on, earning a scholarship, becoming one of the best special teams players in America, now becoming a huge part of our offense the last two years, it's just tremendous. And what a great example for the younger players as they continue to strengthen our culture.”

As Johnson prepares to play one final game as a Buckeye on Friday before exhausting his collegiate eligibility, the sixth-year senior thinks about all the sacrifices he and his teammates have made over all of those years, which drives him to do everything he can to make sure Ohio State ends the season on a high note.

“For me, for my brothers and for everybody who has been a part of this season, college football is grueling and it's a long season and you work year-round for 12 opportunities. And we've come up short in one of them, but I think that it's imperative to finish the season the right way, not only for this team but for Buckeye Nation and just continue to give back to them who’ve given so much to us,” Johnson said Saturday.

“Whatever I gotta do to help the team win, to go beat Missouri, be 1-0 in the bowl season, that's where I'll be. And I'll be full-heartedly there.”– Xavier Johnson on his potential to play multiple roles in the Cotton Bowl

Had transferring been as commonplace in college football four or five years ago as it is now, it’s uncertain whether Johnson’s journey from walk-on to Ohio State captain and key role player would have happened. Johnson has acknowledged on multiple occasions that he considered the possibility of transferring early in his Ohio State career. But now that Johnson is in his final week as a Buckeye, he’s grateful for all the experiences he’s had at Ohio State that have shaped him into who he is now.

“This journey, though it hasn't been exactly what I would have, I guess, scripted – Xavier Johnson, the 18-year-old – I think it's been beautiful in its own way,” Johnson said. “I wouldn't change it for the world because of everything I've been through. I've gained a lot of perseverance or gained a lot of like headstrongness and resilience and everything throughout the process. And I think that if I was to leave, that might not have been the case.

“At the end of the day, I think I'm gonna look up, 5-10 years later and be a better man, a better father, a better husband, a better son, a better man of God, all that just because of the path that the Lord has led me on. So to say that I would have chose a different route, I can't say that, man. Sometimes it's like, ‘Dang, I wish I would have done X, I would have done Y, I would have done Z.’ But the choice that I chose led me to be the man I am today, so I wouldn't exchange that for the world.

“I don't know if I would be in the position I am and have the versatility I have today if it wasn't for the trials and tribulations that it looked like back then,” Johnson added. “So I'm extremely excited to have gone on with Ohio State. I'm extremely excited to have my name be captain and have my name etched in history that way. My name will be attached to Ohio State and I pray that it's in a good light.”

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