Tulane Athletics photo / Chattanooga native Patrick Johnson (34), a former Notre Dame High School standout, is preparing for what he hopes will be an NFL career after helping the Tulane University football program make progress the past three seasons.

Despite it signaling the end of his Tulane University football career, Green Wave fans — and many others — were overflowing with support for Chattanooga's Patrick Johnson this past week after the defensive standout announced he would not return in 2021.

Although a senior, the former Notre Dame High School star could have taken advantage of the NCAA's blanket waiver granting an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he will turn his attention to preparing for what he hopes is a professional football career.

The NFL draft is set for April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, and the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Johnson is training with XPE Sports in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in hopes of hearing his name called then.

As for the positive reaction on social media to his decision, Green Wave supporters certainly have a great amount of gratitude for Johnson, whose ability to find his way into opponent's backfields helped turn the tide for coach Willie Fritz's program.

"Honestly, I was surprised at how many people were a fan of my game and how I carried myself on and off the field," said Johnson, who had already opted out of Tulane's recent bowl game. "I have had a lot of kids message me now throughout my final year, just saying they look up to me and asking for advice. I didn't realize how many people I had in my corner. I am so grateful for all of the love."

After appearing in all 12 of Tulane's games with one start during his 2017 freshman season, the roving outside linebacker started 12 of 13 games as a sophomore, leading the Green Wave in sacks with 10.5 and ranking among the nation's top pass rushers. His 24.5 career sacks are a program record, and Johnson had streaks of 10 and five games in which he brought down the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

He also had career totals of 135 tackles — including 92 solo stops and 40 for lost yardage — 11 pass deflections, six forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

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Tulane Athletics photo / Former Notre Dame High School star Patrick Johnson, center, set a program record for Tulane University with 24.5 career sacks. Johnson is now preparing for a chance to be selected in this April's NFL draft.

Regardless of the next step in his career — some projections have him going as soon as the first round of the NFL draft — he will be remembered well at Tulane. The Green Wave, who had just one winning season from 2003 to 2017, went 19-15 over the past three seasons and won both bowl games in which Johnson played.

"I came into the program, and Coach Fritz was trying to set a foundation," said Johnson, whose 10 sacks in 10 games played were tied for the NCAA regular-season lead in 2020. "I am grateful he took a chance on me, and to see how far we have come in four years is incredible. I will forever be grateful to this program and want to represent it extremely well as I move forward."

Johnson made the all-conference first team for the American Athletic Conference as a senior after being on the second team the previous two years, and he was a second-team All-America selection by the Football Writers Association and Sporting News for the 2020 season.

"I am really lucky to have had great teammates and coaches pushing me," Johnson said. "I also really worked hard on my craft. I always dreamed of playing in the NFL, and I think my talents will translate well to the next level. Whoever picks me, I know I am going to give them all I've got."

In his mind, that's not limited to strictly football.

"I always want to carry myself with dignity and pride off the field," Johnson said. "I was raised by great parents and taught to always do the right thing."

Johnson always shared the joy of football with his father Kevin, who died Dec. 11 in New Orleans while on a trip to surprise his son at school. Patrick's desire to honor his father through his play is only stronger now.

"My father was my best friend. We always saw eye to eye," he said. "He was always the first I would call after football games because he would give me the honest truth about how I played. He actually played at UTC, and that's where he met my mother.

"I wanted him to see me get drafted because that was a dream for me and him both. When I get my name called, I already know tears are going to be flowing. I can't be more thankful for how hard he pushed me, along with my mom. They are great parents, and I will always live in a way that makes them proud and brings honor to them."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.