Things fell in place for the Texas A&M football team this season because it had the leaders to make sure their teammates were in the right place doing the right things. No one did that better than senior linebacker Buddy Johnson, who announced Friday morning on Twitter that he will enter the NFL draft.
“I cannot put into words how thankful I am for the love, support, and mentorship I’ve received the last four years as a Texas A&M Aggie,” Johnson tweeted. “It has truly been a blessing, and I want to thank the Aggie fans for making football enjoyable and giving me a reason to want to wake up everyday and work harder these past few years.”
Johnson’s career ended with a 41-27 Orange Bowl victory over North Carolina last Saturday night.
“He was the glue,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game. “He makes the calls. He’s a guy who kept them together. He’s the guy who talked to the coaches to do things right, get things right. When things don’t go [right], we’d talk to him and he’d go talk to the players. Buddy is a true leader, a true great. He turned in one heck of a senior year.”
Johnson was a two-year starter and team captain. He led the team in tackles both seasons with 77 last year and 86 this year. Johnson capped his career with a game-high 10 tackles in the Orange Bowl victory that gave the fifth-ranked Aggies a 9-1 season as they finished on an eight-game winning streak.
“It’s huge for us to be able to be Orange Bowl champs and having a New Year’s Six bowl is huge,” Johnson said. “Just look back at where we came from and it’s just huge to be a part of it.”
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Johnson was the heart and soul of the defense that allowed only 317.3 yards per game to lead the Southeastern Conference and rank ninth in the country. A&M was third in run defense nationally, allowing only 92 yards per game.
“I have to say it wasn’t only me that was a leader on this team,” Johnson said following the Orange Bowl victory. “We had a lot of guys that stepped up and were leaders for our team, like me, [defensive end] Micheal Clemons, [quarterback] Kellen Mond, [defensive tackle] Jayden Peevy. Guys stepped up huge for us. We rose to the challenge, and I’m just proud of the guys that stepped up and proud of the team for trusting the leaders and the coaches and being able to be led.”
Johnson, who was a Butkus Award semifinalist, had 10 or more tackles in six games this season including 10 in a 20-7 victory over defending national champion LSU. In that game, Johnson returned the only interception of his career 15 yards for a touchdown and was named the SEC defensive player of the week for the performance.
Johnson also forced a fumble against fourth-ranked Florida that led to the game-winning field goal in a 41-38 season-defining victory. Last season, Johnson returned a fumble 62 yards for a touchdown at Ole Miss to lead the Aggies to a 24-17 victory. That effort also earned Johnson SEC defensive player of the week honors.
Johnson had 32 career starts, the most on the defense, and he helped A&M overcome the loss of junior linebacker Anthony Hines III, who opted not to play this season before it began. Hines started every game in 2019 and had 73 tackles to rank second to Johnson. Senior Aaron Hansford stepped in for Hines and started every regular season game this season, finishing with 44 tackles to rank second on the team to Johnson. Hansford had seven tackles for loss and three quarterback pressures.
Hansford, though, was not available for the Orange Bowl. Sophomore Andre White Jr. made his first career start and responded with eight tackles and his first interception, returning it 10 yards to set up A&M’s first score. White had played in 20 previous games, making 39 tackles. Experience is thin at linebacker after White. Junior Chris Russell Jr. (four tackles) and true freshman Edgerrin Cooper (two tackles) both played 10 games this season but mostly on special teams. Senior Ikenna Okeke, who saw limited action in 15 games and made only five tackles, took to Twitter earlier this week to say he wouldn’t be returning. Okeke, who redshirted in 2016, missed the 2018 season after suffering a season-ending injury in fall camp.
“There’s a lot of great guys in that [linebacker] room,” Johnson said before the Orange Bowl. “That room is fired up. Chris Russell, I like the way he moves. He’s a guy that’s learning and progressing a lot. He’s very athletic, very fast. He’s a guy that came a long way, and he can only get better. Guys in that room are making big-time plays. Y’all have been seeing Andre White. He’s only getting better week by week. He’s getting smarter and he’s understanding the game more, and he’s able to go out there and play more comfortably.”
Johnson could have returned for a fifth season by taking advantage of the NCAA’s ruling that this season did not count toward a player’s eligibility. Johnson is the team’s fifth senior to declare for the NFL draft, joining Mond, offensive left tackle Dan Moore Jr., center Ryan McCollum and right guard Jared Hocker. Peevy and wide receiver Camron Buckley are the only A&M seniors thus far to take advantage of the extra year. Buckley missed this season with an injury and could have sought a medical redshirt. Key A&M seniors yet to announce their intentions include cornerback Myles Jones and Clemons.
The deadline for players declaring for the NFL draft has yet to be determined. Expectations are that it will be around Jan. 18, which is seven days after Monday’s national championship game. The NFL draft will be April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, Ohio.
NOTES — A&M sophomore offensive guard Kenyon Green was named a consensus All-American by the NCAA on Friday. He was among nine SEC players to earn the status, including a league-best six from Alabama. A player has to be named a first-team All-American by at least three of the five selectors the NCAA recognizes to be a consensus All-American, but it’s possible a player still can be a consensus All-American without making three teams if there’s not enough players to fill the consensus team, which was the case with Green. He was named a second-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation and the American Football Coaches Association on Friday. He also was a second-team pick by the Associated Press along with being a first-teamer by the Football Writers Association of America and the Sporting News. ... Green is A&M’s 55th consensus All-American. The last two were tight end Jace Sternberger and punter Braden Mann in 2018. Mann was a unanimous selection. ... Alabama’s consensus All-Americans this season include center Landon Dickerson, running back Najee Harris, quarterback Mac Jones, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, wide receiver DeVonta Smith and cornerback Patrick Surtain. Alabama held the previous SEC record with five consensus All-Americans in 2009 and 2018. Harris, Leatherwood, Dickerson and Surtain were unanimous selections. Jones was denied unanimous status because the FWAA named Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence its first-team quarterback. ... Northwestern linebacker Brandon Joseph was the only freshman to make the NCAA’s consensus All-America team. Joseph played at College Station.