GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will have a new name on the back of his jersey this year.
He added Johnson to his last name at the end of 2017 to honor his stepfather, Brian Johnson. His biological father, Chauncey Gardner Sr., has been a part of his life, but Johnson has raised Gardner-Johnson since he was a toddler.
“[Brian] has been there since I was 3,” Gardner-Johnson said. “It’s hard because my real dad has been there, but [Brian] has really been my father. … The older I got, I understood what it meant to me.
“I’ve got two little brothers. Everybody always says, ‘That’s not your older brother because you got Gardner on your back.’ Now my brothers and I have the same last name on the back. My whole family has the last name. It’s something I take pride in and go out there and compete.”
P S A❗️❗️ pic.twitter.com/uRUMeWJJ9U
— Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (@CGJXXIII) December 30, 2017
Gardner-Johnson may have a new name, but his role will stay in the same in 2018. There was some talk that he could move to cornerback in Florida’s new 3-4 defense, but Gators coach Dan Mullen confirmed Tuesday that Gardner-Johnson will stay put.
“He’s going to be more safety and possibly nickel within the scheme that we play,” Mullen said. “That’s where we’re going to kind of start him at.”
Gardner-Johnson was the nation’s No. 4-ranked cornerback in the 2016 class, and the previous Florida staff recruited him to play that position. However, he switched to safety during his freshman season and had a breakout performance in the Outback Bowl, earning MVP honors.
“It goes back to my freshman year,” Gardner-Johnson said when asked how he feels about playing safety. “There’s a lot of ballplayers on this team. Everybody just has a chance to play, and everyone has a chance to learn. So all the positions, they account for each other.
“Safety accounts for the corners, and they account for the D-line. It feels like the safety controls everything, gets everybody lined up, but everybody accounts for each other. We just go out there and have fun.”
Gardner-Johnson played and started 11 games at safety in 2017, totaling 58 tackles, 2 interceptions and 7 pass breakups. He struggled early in the season with missed tackles. Gardner-Johnson improved as the season progressed and finished second on the team in tackles.
Gardner-Johnson knows a strong junior season could allow him to leave early for the NFL, but that is not his focus. He is embracing the new coaching staff and trying to soak in as much as possible.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Gardner-Johnson said of the expectations for his junior season. “You look around the country, a lot of guys their junior year the pressure builds up on them and they just fold. Some of them rise up.
“But I’m just going out there to have fun. I’m going to treat it like it’s my freshman year all over again, you know what I’m saying? It’s new. We got new coaches, new players, so we’ve got to treat everything like a new system.”