LAWRENCE — Kansas sophomore safety Isaiah Johnson can admit that there is no precise recipe for an interception. Sometimes it takes a little good fortune, a little timing, and some sound football instincts.
But it’s also key that a defensive player can … you know, catch the ball. So perhaps that’s part of the secret for Johnson, who leads Kansas with four interceptions in his first season in the program.
“I think it’s more technique and reading your keys and breaking on the quarterback’s arm,” Johnson says. “When you see the ball thrown, usually having a good break will help you out.”
He pauses for a moment.
“I also have good hands,” Johnson says, smiling.
Those hands were put to use as a standout high school receiver at Panther Creek High School in Cary, N.C. Johnson then opted to stay closer to home, signing with Western Carolina and playing two games as a true freshman receiver in 2011. But a knee injury ended his season early, and after gaining a medical redshirt, he landed at Iowa Western Community College, where he switched to defense.
Johnson helped the school win a NJCAA national title while playing alongside current K-State quarterback Jake Waters, and Johnson felt comfortable signing on with Charlie Weis’ rebuilding job at Kansas.
“Just the environment around here,” Johnson said. “Just because of Coach Weis and his pedigree.”
Part of a junior college recruiting class that featured nearly 20 players, Johnson has been one of the certified hits. He added to his interception total with two picks against Texas last week, and he’s helped rebuild a secondary that lost all four starters last season.
Entering Saturday’s matchup with Oklahoma State at 3 p.m. in Stillwater, Johnson’s four interceptions are the most by a KU player since Darrell Stuckey, now with the San Diego Chargers, picked off five passes during the 2008 season. Johnson also leads KU with 58 tackles.
Even better, Johnson still has two years of eligibility remaining after this season, and the entire KU secondary will return next year. That means more cohesion, and maybe more opportunity for big plays.
“I think we’ll even have a better chemistry next year,” Johnson said, “because we all can play off each other, and we’ll all be around each other for another year.”