Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Sunseri: Johnson earned his position


Amid all the hype of the upcoming Alabama-Michigan game Saturday, one storyline has been popping up since Alabama released its two-deep depth chart Tuesday: senior walk-on Kelly Johnson being named the starter at H-back ahead of sophomore Harrison Jones and redshirt freshman Brent Calloway.

Johnson, a native of Charlotte, N.C., said he never expected to start at Alabama, let alone at any school at the college level – Johnson, who played quarterback and safety at Providence Day High School in North Carolina, said he didn’t receive much attention out of high school.

He came to Alabama as a walk-on, listed on the roster as a linebacker and back-up snapper. He earned his first playing time as a junior on special teams before making the move to H-back in the spring.

Despite the move, Johnson said he had no idea he’d make it to the top of the depth chart heading into the preseason.

“Coming into preseason, I was just ready to get the pads back on,” Johnson said. “Get done with 110s and conditioning test and get back to football. I wasn’t expecting much.”

Head coach Nick Saban said Johnson’s time on the football team and his work ethic on the field was what separated him from Jones and Calloway.

“Kelly’s been in the program a long time,” Saban said. “So he’s much more veteran than any of those other guys. He’s a tough guy, a good blocker, and he’s done a really nice job at H.”

Despite the work he put in, Johnson said he was still a little shocked at earning the starting position at H-back, especially at a place like Alabama, which brings in blue-chip talent on an annual basis.

More than anything, Johnson attributed his success and a chance at this opportunity to his workman-like attitude, something he brought to practice with him every day.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Johnson said. “I think the biggest thing is showing up every day, carrying the water and being persistent and working hard every day.”

Still, if anyone on the team, other than Johnson himself, knew he could earn a starting position, it would be safety Vinnie Sunseri. Sunseri said he used to look up to Johnson growing up, when Johnson and Sunseri’s older brother used to play together at middle school.

“I’ve known Kelly since he was in the seventh grade,” Sunseri said. “Actually watched him when he was growing up, and he was able to dunk a ball in the seventh grade. He was a freak athlete and I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be like Kelly when I get older.’”

Sunseri said Johnson was the example of hard work on the team during the fall, where he would normally finish sprinting drills at the front of the line and spend a lot of his time in the film room.

“I saw him over there one day walking over, as we were going against each other, starters against starters,” Sunseri said. “I was like, ‘Kelly, what’s up?’ It was cool. I was really, really, really happy for the guy.”

Still, Sunseri said he’s a little less happy to see Johnson if the two happen to collide during plays, where Sunseri said he loses most of the time due to Johnson’s superior size. Regardless, Sunseri said he thought Johnson earned his position.

“I can’t explain to you how hard he’s been working,” Sunseri said. “He definitely pushes himself … Cream rises to the top and he definitely deserves everything he got.”

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