Johnson named ACC’s defensive player of year

Jermaine Johnson’s phone was inundated with calls from coaches after he opted to leave Georgia and enter the transfer portal. His first reaction to Florida State, and coach Mike Norvell’s persistent phone calls, was that it didn’t feel like where he wanted to be.

“It’s kind of funny because he kept blowing my phone up at the beginning of the process and I was like, ‘I ain’t going to Florida State. I ain’t going to Florida State,’ ” Johnson said. “And then I finally answered it, and then we shared a long conversation. Florida State ended up becoming the perfect spot for me and it will always be my home. I’ll always be a Seminole.”

Johnson was named the ACC’s defensive player of the year on Wednesday. The Florida State defensive end had 70 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2021. He received 53 of 64 votes for defensive POY.

A few hours after the ACC awards were announced, Johnson reflected on his initial conversation with Norvell.

“We can give you what you want,” Johnson recalled. “But I need you to do this for the team. I need you to be that, I need you to act this way. Just be yourself. Really that’s all he said, ‘Be you. You don’t have to do anything else but come here and be you. I’ve talked to enough people. I’ve done background checks. I know what kind of person you are. I just need you here to be yourself and be what I think you can be.’ That’s all he really said. And from that, for a guy that I didn’t really know, to have that kind of belief in me as a player and a person and give me the opportunity that I wanted and trust me not to take advantage of it and trust me to handle that position with care, that’s all it really was.”

Johnson arrived in Tallahassee intent on leading and changing the culture. His experience and energy helped to do both as FSU finished 5-7 in Norvell’s second season at FSU.

And he also had one of the best seasons by an FSU pass rusher: Johnson’s 12 sacks place him ninth on FSU’s single-season sack list. His 70 tackles are the most among Power 5 defensive linemen going into the conference championship games this weekend.

Johnson feels he has seen a culture shift in his year on campus and has confidence in what players and coaches will achieve in 2022 and beyond.

“The mindset and the standard of the teams is set,” Johnson said. “We’ll be good long after I’m gone, I’m positive of that. … I think as a program, we understand that hard work works. There’s no way around it. Just doing the dirty hard work in the dark when no one’s watching. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to be selfless? Are you willing to put the team first and I think all those guys are and that’s going to come to fruition.”

Johnson has an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl but said he is uncertain as to where he will train or if he will play in the Feb. 5 all-star game in Mobile, Ala.

FSU has won a league-best eight Defensive Player of the Year awards since the ACC first presented the honor in 1993. Johnson joins DE Demarcus Walker (2016), DE Bjoern Werner (2012), DL Darnell Dockett (2003), DE Andre Wadsworth (1997), LB Peter Boulware (1996), DE Derrick Alexander (1994) and LB Derrick Brooks (1993).

ACC year-end awards

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett was selected as the ACC’s offensive player of the year.

Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was named the ACC’s offensive rookie of the year. Clemson safety Andrew Mukuba was selected as the league’s defensive rookie of the year.

ACC Player of the Year

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt, 52

Brennan Armstrong, QB, Virginia, 5

Sam Hartman, QB, Wake Forest, 3

Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State, 2

Drake Thomas, LB, NC State, 2

ACC Offensive Player of the Year

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt, 54

Brennan Armstrong, QB, Virginia, 7

Sam Hartman, QB, Wake Forest, 3

ACC Defensive Player of the Year

Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State, 53

James Skalski, LB, Clemson, 6

Drake Thomas, LB, NC State, 3

Mikel Jones, LB, Syracuse, 2

ACC Rookie of the Year

Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami, 48

Will Shipley, RB, Clemson, 12

Andrew Mukuba, S, Clemson, 2

Duce Chestnut, CB, Syracuse, 2

ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year

Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami, 50

Will Shipley, RB, Clemson, 13

Malachi Thomas, RB, Virginia Tech, 1

ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year

Andrew Mukuba, S, Clemson, 28

Duce Chestnut, CB, Syracuse, 19

James Williams, S, Miami, 13

Jasheen Davis, DE, Wake Forest, 4