Wednesday, November 24, 2021

James Johnson, First-Team All-Ivy

TigerBlog has been around Princeton Athletics for a long, long time.

There's no current athlete who was anywhere near being born when TB first started covering the Tigers. He's been a part of so many amazing moments during all these years, and yet you never know when another one is about to happen.

Such was the case yesterday afternoon. Miss TigerBlog needed a suitcase to pack for her trip home for Thanksgiving, and TB had it in his car in the West Garage. He was walking over to get it when he saw someone wave to him after getting off the Dinky.

It turned out to be James Johnson, the football linebacker. He wasn't wearing his No. 45 jersey though. He'd worn that for the final time this past Saturday, when Princeton defeated Penn 34-14 to salt away another Ivy League championship. 

Now it was three days after that, and Johnson was wearing a different uniform, this time a business suit. He'd just come from a job interview.

TigerBlog offered him congratulations on the championship and on his season. They talked briefly about the bonfire, and Johnson spoke about how nervous he'd been to talk to that many people This was shortly after 2 in the afternoon, or a few minutes after the All-Ivy League football team had been announced.

TB asked Johnson if he'd seen it yet. Johnson said he had not, so TB took out his phone to show him, knowing full well that Johnson had been named first-team All-Ivy.

First, before he looked, Johnson said "did I get anything?" TB responded with "let's check."

When Johnson saw his name, he erupted in pure joy. He even gave TB a big hug, which gave a fairly good indication of how good a tackler Johnson is, by the way. Then he screamed.

It was just a wonderful moment. 

It was the culmination of so much hard work, so much effort, so much devotion to the team. He is such an incredible team player too. He's one of those guys who has given everything he has for his team and would do whatever he could to help his team win.

He's also a big reason why the team has been so successful since he's been a part of it. Those two go hand-in-hand in his case.

He's played on a defense with big personalities and large presences. Hey, Jeremiah Tyler alone has enough personality and presence for several teams. So does Trevor Forbes. For that matter, so does Tom Johnson, James's older brother and a first-team All-Ivy linebacker himself on the 2018 team

This was crystal clear at the bonfire. Tyler, Forbes and Tom Johnson spoke to the huge crowd with all of that big personality on display. James Johnson spoke softly when it was his turn.

Often, when you have a situation like that, you can get overlooked when it comes to individual honors. Had Johnson looked at the All-Ivy team and not seen his name, TB is pretty sure that he would have been disappointed but happy for his teammates, happiest of all that they won a championship.

Tyler was first-team too. He was a unanimous pick. So was Jacob Birmelin on offense. Forbes was first-team. Princeton had 10 total first-team selections. Samuel Wright II, Carson Bobo, Reily Radosevich, Henry Byrd and Will Powers all made it.

So too did Collin Eaddy, which made TB happy. Eaddy broke two bones in his leg early in the Dartmouth game in Week 8, but he'd already made his case by then. 

Two others who weren't first-team but very much would have been were Delan Stallworth, who was an honorable mention after missing most of the second half of the year due to injury, and Uche Ndukwe, who was second-team after also playing only half the year. TB was happy for them. He was happy for all 16 Princeton selections: the others were Andrei Iosivas and David Hoffman (second-team) and Dylan Classi and Cole Smith (honorable mention.

And yesterday, outside the West Garage a little after 2 in the afternoon, James Johnson found out that his efforts had not gone unnoticed, that the league's coaches saw what was hard to miss. The coaches saw him, game-planned for him, competed against him. They saw how sure a tackler he was. They saw how athletic he is. They saw him make plays all over the field, week after week after week.

And so what they ultimately saw was that James Johnson was a sure-fire, no-doubt first-team linebacker.

His reaction to the news made TB smile for, well, he's still smiling about it. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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