University of Miami

UM All-American tried to convince juniors to return. He expects a championship season

Miami Hurricanes safety Jaquan Johnson receives the turnover chain as the University of Miami hosted Virginia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 4, 2017.
Miami Hurricanes safety Jaquan Johnson receives the turnover chain as the University of Miami hosted Virginia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 4, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Miami Hurricanes senior safety Jaquan Johnson said Tuesday that he tried to get junior defensive tackles Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh to return for their final seasons, but they chose the NFL instead.

McIntosh was drafted early in the fifth round by the New York Giants and Norton finally went late in the seventh round to the Carolina Panthers.

"It was a no-brainer,'' Johnson said at a team community service event at George Washington Carver Elementary in Coral Gables. "I knew I was coming back [as early as] my junior year. I was just trying to get RJ and Norton to come back."

Why didn't they listen?

"Guys make their decisions for their families, and they're doing well,'' he said.

"I wanted to get my degree, but most importantly I wanted to play with my brothers for my final year,'' continued Johnson, a second-team All-American who was one of just four defensive players named among 15 semifinalists for the 2017 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. "You develop, you understand the game more. Things start to slow down.

"You go in with knowledge that you think you had when you were a junior, but in your senior year you definitely know you know it. You're able to communicate to the [graduate assistants] and to the [scout-teamers]. You get stronger. You get faster. That's why I think it's important to come back. And then, you want to see things through. We have a great thing going here, and I want to be a part of it.''

Last season, the 5-11, 190-pound Johnson was called the "heart and soul of UM's secondary'' by defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. "The guy is unbelievable,'' Diaz said. "When you need a guy to make a play, that's the guy. That's the guy.''

Johnson, 22, led the Hurricanes in tackles last season with 96. He had four interceptions, three tackles for loss, one sack, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

"We want to win every game this year,'' Johnson said. "That's the standard. Win the Coastal, win the [Atlantic Coast Conference] championship, get in the playoff and win the national championship. That's why I came back for my senior year, and that's what we're planning on doing.''

UM D-end Joe Jackson, left, and safety Jaquan Johnson helped preserve the victory over North Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017., in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Defensive end Demetrius Jackson, a redshirt senior who sustained a season-ending torn meniscus in his right knee against Virginia Tech on Nov. 4, said that Johnson returning meant "a lot.''

"It shows that a guy like that is not selfish. We're from the same background,'' Jackson, out of Miami Booker T. Washington High, said Tuesday. "We come from the hood. It shows he's not a greedy guy. He cares more about this team. He's a team-first guy. He puts the team on his back...

"He knows what we're going to do this year and I think that's one of the reasons he came back, to be a part of something special.''

Safety Sheldrick Redwine, a converted cornerback who was teammates with Johnson at Miami Killian High, said he was "real happy'' Johnson returned. "I always knew he wasn't leaving. It's a big difference. It's another leader that you don't lose that you can bring back to help the young guys."

Former Illinois defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo has joined the Hurricanes as a graduate transfer after deciding to leave the Big Ten school. He is now enrolled in Miami's Summer Session A, per UM.

Odenigbo, whose parents emigrated from Nigeria, has one year of eligibility remaining and, per NCAA graduate transfer rules, could play immediately.

The news of the 6-3, 290-pound Odenigbo deciding to leave Illinois was announced in late November after the team finished 2-10.

Odenigbo started four games in 2017 and was second on the team in tackles for loss with 4 1/2. According to the Illinois website, he played in 10 games this past season and had 29 tackles, a sack and two pass breakups. He also blocked a field-goal attempt at South Florida.

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