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July 5, 2012

Worth the wait

* This story continues our series getting to know members of Penn State's class of 2012

Austin Johnson wasn't waiting any longer.

Standing outside The Family Clothesline on College Avenue, he called home to talk to his father. He had important news to tell him, but he also needed his blessing.

Football camp had just ended at Penn State, and Johnson, a defensive tackle from St. Augustine Prep in Richland, N.J., had been tendered a scholarship offer by assistant coach Larry Johnson. If he wanted to play for the Nittany Lions, which was his boyhood dream, all he had to do was accept.

"Can we wait to talk about this as a family first?" said Tammy Johnson, trying to dissuade her son from making an immediate decision as they stood together across the street from Penn State's campus.

"No, I'm calling him right now, because this is where I want to go," Johnson replied. "This is where I want to be. I don't want to be anywhere else."

His dad didn't talk him out of it, either. And so Johnson's next phone call was to Larry Johnson, the Nittany Lions' longtime defensive line coach, to accept the offer. He's been part of the university's family ever since.

"You could have probably lit the whole Penn State campus up with his smile," Tammy said, recalling that June afternoon. "He was so excited. I was excited for him. I had tears in my eyes, because I could see how happy he was that he got offered by Penn State."

It wasn't the only offer Johnson received that summer. Because he had played basketball in previous years, the summer before his senior season was really the first time Johnson hit the camp circuit. As a result, he was relatively unknown among the primary recruiting websites.

"Austin wasn't the typical football player who went to all the combines and all the other things that other kids did," his mother said. "He played basketball in the summer."

He was pretty good at it, too. Johnson ended his senior season averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds per game and also helped lead the Hermits to a New Jersey State Non-Public Class A title as a junior. And because he spent his summers traveling for basketball, gaining exposure at football camps was not his top priority.

But those priorities changed after his junior year. Before he arrived at Penn State, he had already been to camps at Boston College and Rutgers, garnering scholarship offers at both stops. Tulane made an offer, too, and his next camp was at Syracuse.

The Orange had already extended an offer, and the Johnsons were planning to be on campus the day after checking out Penn State. But when he committed, Johnson called the Syracuse coaches, and his mother crossed that trip off the itinerary, literally.

As they left for home, word quickly spread that two defensive tackles had verbally committed to the Lions following the camp. One was Derek Dowrey, and the other was Johnson. From that point on, people began to learn about the once-unfamiliar 6-foot-4, 295-pounder and his sheer athleticism.

He was given a three-star rating and was considered the 29th-best overall prospect in the Garden State by Rivals.com. Many recruiting analysts have said he might fit in better on the offensive line, but Penn State has insisted he will start his career on defense. Johnson said he's ready to step in wherever he's needed.

In the meantime, he is preparing himself for the rigors of Division I football. He can bench press 345 pounds and has already gained more than 15 pounds since his junior season.

And when the time comes to suit up in his no-name basic blue uniform in Beaver Stadium, he wants to make sure Penn State fans remember his name.

"I just can't wait to get there and show everybody what I've got and show everyone what I can do," he said. "I'm going to leave my heart on the field every time I'm out there."



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