Georgia has a lot of new faces in its secondary this year, but cornerback Kennar Johnson is easy to recognize.
“I haven’t had a haircut in three years,” Johnson said after Thursday’s practice.
The lengthy dreadlocks have accompanied the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder to Athens after a journey that began at East Ridge High in Clermont, Fla., and continued to Reedley College in Reedley, Calif., and Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinson, Miss. Johnson recorded 34 tackles and three pass deflections last year at Gulf Coast and insists that learning a fourth defense in as many years will not be a burden.
There is, after all, his experience factor with such challenges.
“It’s been tough, but I’m a smart guy when it comes to football, and I can learn quick,” Johnson said. “I’m just taking what they give me and running with it. I’ve learned each system that I’ve been under fast, and especially being an SEC player, you’ve got to learn things fast because it’s so fast-paced.”
The Bulldogs practiced Thursday morning after a Wednesday scrimmage that was less than pleasing to coach Mark Richt. Thursday’s session was in shoulder pads and shorts and lasted two and a half hours.
“They cranked it up and decided to have a little fun,” Richt said. “We got a lot of really good work in. I’m certain we got better today.”
Thursday was the first day Georgia’s defensive newcomers were available to the media, but there was not an abundance of choices. The Bulldogs signed 19 defenders in February, but 11 were on the injury report and therefore unavailable, including projected starting safety Tray Matthews.
Two of the freshman defensive backs, Reggie Wilkerson (ACL) and Paris Bostick (toe), underwent season-ending surgeries in June.
“I’m very fortunate to have been able to go out and practice every day,” Johnson said. “It’s camp, so it’s going to be tough and you are going to get nicks and bruises, but you’ve just got to keep pushing. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to push on.”
Johnson is Georgia’s first junior college defensive back signee since safety Jakar Hamilton, who joined the Bulldogs in 2010 out of Georgia Military College. Hamilton started the first five games of the 2010 season before getting replaced by emerging freshman Alec Ogletree, and he left the program early in the 2011 season after fracturing his ankle in preseason camp.
Hamilton played at South Carolina State last season and is trying out with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent.
Now it’s Johnson who is not only trying to make an impact at Georgia but a lasting one. He said Thursday that he is primarily working as the No. 2 boundary corner behind junior All-SEC candidate Damian Swann.
“Coming in as a junior college guy, you’re expected to play right away and learn the system faster and get on the field faster,” he said. “There is definitely that pressure to play right away, because that clock is ticking. I definitely think that if I stay in my playbook and learn as much as possible that I will be on the field this year.”
<em>Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.</em>