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long road back
By Tyler King The Daily Collegian
July 1 — the day college coaches
can being con- tacting potential recruits — is an
important date to every rising high
school junior who hopes
to continue playing
sports at the collegiate
level. On that
summer day before Jan Johnson’s
junior year at Governor Mif-
flin High School, his phone was blowing
up with coaches calling him.
But none of them were from the school he
had always dreamed of at- tending, nor the sport he
wanted to play in college. Johnson was a multi-
sport athlete at his high school just outside of Reading, Pennsylvania.
He shined on the foot- ball field as a quarterback and a hybrid linebacker/ safety — but it was talents
on the wrestling mat which had college coaches giving
him a call. Like a lot of kids from eastern Pennsylvania,
Johnson grew up in a family of wrestlers. His father, Jan Johnson Sr., and his uncle, Joel, both wrestled at Penn State in the early ‘80s. Johnson had plenty of offers to follow in the footsteps of his dad and uncle and wrestle collegiately, but he had his eyes set on living out his own dream.
“I deal with kids a lot and what their goals and plans for life are. Sometimes it’s different than what other people expect it to be,” Johnson Sr., who works as a school counselor, told The Daily Collegian. “A lot of people felt that was [wrestling in col- lege] a good way for him to go, but he didn’t think that.”
Although he would go on to become a two-time Pennsylvania state champion at 195 pounds, Johnson had a dream that he wanted to achieve. His dream lied on the football field — not on the wrestling mat. ***
Jan Johnson can still remember the mo- ment he was dead set on playing football at Penn State. He was in middle school and had made the two-hour or so trip to Happy
Valley from Mohnton, Pennsylvania. It was a white out game against
Michigan and it was everything Johnson could think about.
“I was sitting in like the top end of the bleachers and I could feel the stadium shaking. I was like, ‘Wow, I don’t know how you could top this,’” Johnson said last week. “Growing up a big Penn State fan, all I ever wanted to do was come here and play football.”
Despite putting up impressive num- bers playing on both sides of the ball for the Mustangs, Johnson received just two scholarship offers on the gridiron.
The lone FBS school to offer Johnson was Akron. The other was Fordham, an FCS school, and its head coach –– Joe Moorhead.
“During the process, [Moorhead] said that there was no doubt in his mind that Jan would be able to play at Penn State,” Johnson Sr. said. “As much as he wanted him at Fordham, he respected and under- stood why he chose to walk on at Penn State.”
That’s how badly Johnson wanted to be a part of the Penn State program.
He did whatever it took to put on that blue and white uniform.
He wanted to contribute in whatever way possible and that would shape the next few years of Johnson’s life at the school he al- ways dreamed of attending.
*** In October of his first full semester on
campus, Johnson got a text from his coach, James Franklin. The text read, “Can you come into my office?”
While Johnson probably thought he was about to get yelled at for something he may have done the day before at practice, he was actually presented with the oppor- tunity that would change the direction of his athletic career.
Earlier in the week, the lone heavy- weight on the wrestling roster, redshirt freshman Nick Nevills, suffered an injury and coach Cael Sanderson and his staff were in search of a replacement.
So, Sanderson approached Franklin about recruiting Johnson to join the team. The coaching staff had been familiar with Johnson from his days as a AAA state champion at 195 pounds. Franklin and his staff gave it the okay, leaving the decision up to Johnson. Later that week, Johnson met with Sanderson on a Saturday after- noon and after a few minutes of talking, they headed down to the Lorenzo Wres- tling Complex.
After a few hours of practicing, Sanderson was on board.
“All right man, let’s do this,” Johnson re- called Sanderson saying. “I was like ‘Okay’ and right from there I joined the team.”
Two and a half weeks later, Johnson found himself in the starting lineup for Penn State’s season-opener against Lock Haven inside a crowded and excited Rec
Hall. Johnson had wrestled the final two years of his high school career at 195 pounds, but he found himself as the starter at 285 pounds and was the final match of the night. When he trotted out to the mat for his first collegiate wrestling match, the contest was well in hand.
The Nittany Lions led 47-0 and it was just about the time that majority of the fans usually headed for the exits.
But not on that Friday night. Everyone stayed to watch Johnson de-
feat Lock Haven’s Brad Emerick, who outweighed Johnson by almost 50 pounds. Johnson’s father, who had once put on a Penn State singlet himself, was in atten- dance. The only way he could describe it?
“It was overwhelming,” Johnson Sr. said.
Even though that would turn out to be his only win during his time with the team, Johnson got to be a part of a Penn State program in the midst of a dynasty the wrestling world has never seen before.
“Being around them, they know how to win. I watched what their habits were, what they did and clearly it’s working. My dad and my uncle wrestled here so that was exciting for them to have another Johnson come here and wrestle for Penn State even if it was only for a year,” John- son said.
*** Moving up the depth chart as a walk-on
is hard enough. Then, after missing almost all of the fall because of his time with the wrestling team, Johnson found himself in a tough spot. Once he rejoined the football team for spring practices, reality set back in.
He was a walk-on still learning how to play at linebacker at the school best known for producing talented players at that posi- tion.
“It took some time [to feel comfortable],” Johnson said. “You know, when I first got here, I hadn’t played a lot of linebacker in high school. I mainly played safety. I played a little bit of linebacker my freshman year but that was years ago.”
But, due to several circumstances (inju- ries, players graduating and freshman not arriving yet), Johnson made the switch from outside to inside linebacker and had an opportunity to get a lot of reps and prove that he belonged on the football field, not on the wrestling mat. When the team’s first depth chart of the season came out, his name was nowhere to be found.
But before the Nittany Lions’ fourth game of the season, a showdown at the Big House against Michigan, Johnson’s name appeared. Due to injuries to both Ja- son Cabinda and Nyeem Wartman-White, Johnson began to get more reps in prac- tice and found himself in a position to play in a big-time environment.
See Johnson, Page 5.
By Maddie Aiken The Daily Collegian
Marcus Josey had a seemingly perfect high school life.
As the starting quarterback of his school’s football team, a basketball player and, in his words, a “pretty popular kid,” his life wasn’t much different from thousands of other high school students across America.
All that changed on April 10, 2015, when Josey, then a 17-year- old high school junior, was diag- nosed with leukemia.
Flash forward three years later, and Josey, now 20, finished his leukemia treatment just over a month ago. He credited his re- covery to Four Diamonds and the Penn State Children’s Hospital.
“Throughout this whole ex- perience, Four Diamonds has been a life saver,” Josey said. “I really don’t know what things would have been like without Four Diamonds and I really can’t even imagine going through this without having the support that we did from Four Diamonds and everyone connected to that orga- nization.”
Josey is one of over 4,000 chil- dren who have received assis- tance from Four Diamonds.
On Aug. 16, Josey rang the
ceremonial bell at Penn State Children’s Hospital, officially marking the end of his treatment. He described the moment as “bit- tersweet” — it marked the end of his treatment, yet it was also a reminder of the challenging years he spent battling cancer.
While his treatment is over,
cancer “never stops and doesn’t go away,” Josey said. “Of course ringing the bell was a good feeling and a relief, and it brought joy to me and my family, but it was also bittersweet in the fact that I still had to go through everything that I went through,” Josey said.
“I still do have long-lasting side
effects that will affect me for the rest of my life, and I lost a lot of people that I met throughout my journey.”
Josey’s journey with cancer started his junior year of high school, when he began experienc- ing several symptoms — things he thought were “strange.”
He had pains in his back and jaw, was always tired and experi- enced nosebleeds that would last three to four hours. Doctors mis- diagnosed Josey several ti