AUBURN, Ala. — During the last year, LaTasha Johnson has noticed how her son has changed.
Prior to 2015, Auburn senior quarterback Jeremy Johnson faced pressure as the season approached. Coach Gus Malzahn named him the starter. The Tigers were ranked No. 6 in The Associated Press preseason poll. Johnson’s name was catapulted into the Heisman Trophy conversation. As the first game neared, the Montgomery, Ala., native answered his mother’s concerns with confidence. He assured her he was prepared to step onto a larger stage. Then, in the first three games of the season, the high expectations overwhelmed Johnson.
“He was probably handling the pressure pretty good last year outwardly,” LaTasha said. “But, inwardly, he was probably struggling. He never said anything negative about the pressure, but I know he had it on him.”
Auburn defeated Louisville by a touchdown in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. It scraped by FCS power Jacksonville State in overtime in the second game. Auburn lost by 24 points against LSU in Week 3. Johnson threw for 473 yards in those games, with 6 interceptions. He was benched before Week 4. After he returned, Johnson rebounded with a few steady performances.
Heading into his senior season, Johnson has moved on.
“He’s really good, very optimistic,” LaTasha said. “He’s positive, and it’s a new day. We’ll put it this way: His attitude is different as far as he’s always been humble, but he’s a little more humble now. I can’t even explain it; it seems like he’s calm now. He seems more relaxed.”
Johnson competed against Sean White and junior college transfer John Franklin III the first two weeks of fall camp. He has continued to impress teammates and coaches with his leadership and attitude.
“He’s not going through a storm; he’s gone through the storm,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “I think everybody gets that. He had a lot of adversity. It was a rough year for him, as it was for others. The very impressive thing is a lot of times young men that age, whether they transfer or they quit or leave — he pushed through it. You’ve got to be extremely proud of him for that.”
In the offseason, LaTasha observed Jeremy’s perseverance. He got stronger and concentrated on making more accurate throws. Johnson also studied and watched more film than ever.
“He focused on focusing,” she said. “On focusing out on the field. It was a different Jeremy this year.”
On the final day of fall camp, Auburn had not chosen a starter. Accuracy, production, ball protection and leadership were stressed by Malzahn and Lashlee throughout camp. The competing trio demonstrated them — for the most part — equally.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen moving forward,” Lashlee said. “We’re going to play the best guy, and there’s no kind of past baggage that will factor in or any, well, ‘because he’s been through it.’ No, the best guy is going to play.”
Despite her curiosity, LaTasha keeps her questions about Auburn’s quarterback race to herself. She is awaiting the announcement like the rest of Auburn’s fans. Though she’s excited about the upcoming season, the most important date is Dec. 10. That is when Johnson will graduate.
“He has pushed through that and been a great teammate,” Lashlee said. “He’s been an Auburn Man and been someone who said, ‘No, I’m going to graduate from Auburn, I love Auburn and I want to help this team in whatever capacity that is, and I’m going to compete until you tell me I am or am not the guy.’ ”