Building a foundation: Buffs defensive end Johnson believed in Hughes’ process
West Texas A&M defensive end Gerred Johnson, right, celebrates with coach Hunter Hughes during a win against Azusa Pacific earlier this season. [Mackenzie Teal/ Press Pass Sports]
High School: Mansfield Summit
Major: Digital communications and media.
Position: Defensive end.
Career games: 44
Career starts: 31
Career tackles: 128
Career highlight: Started 31 of 33 games at defensive end over the past three years.
Anyone that knows West Texas A&M defensive end Gerred Johnson is well aware he carries two different personas on and off the field.
There’s his off the field demeanor that’s soft spoken, mild mannered, similar to Clark Kent, complete with the glasses look.
Then, there’s his on the field demeanor, similar to Superman.
He’s ditched the glasses, decks himself out in a uniform, and gives a heroic defensive effort week in and week out with a ferocious tenacity.
“I’ve always been like that,” said Johnson about his demeanor. “I’m loud at times with my teammates, but when I’m off the field, I’m laid back just doing my thing. But when I step on the field, I let it go and enjoy the moment. My altar ego comes out. I really don’t notice it. I just start a transition few hours before the game. A new focus starts.”
WT coach Hunter Hughes has taken notice of Johnson’s split personality, and loves every part of it.
That’s one of many reasons Hughes and Johnson have formed a close bond over three years.
But the biggest reason was Johnson’s willingness to stay at WT and buy in when Hughes took over in 2017. Johnson, a redshirt sophomore at the time, was one of a handful of players to believe in Hughes vision for the program. Something that’s not lost on the coach.
“Gerred knew when I came in, things were going to get done a certain way,” Hughes said. “Gerred believed and bought in. In my opinion there were accountability issues when I got here. Gerred probably noticed I wasn’t scared to get rid of anyone whether they were considered good or not. But he’s stuck it out and he’s a leader.”
Johnson said he felt an obligation to WT when he signed to be a student-athlete, though it wasn’t easy. WT scrapped to win three games in 2017 and at that time the future looked bleak.
“It was difficult at first, and a real challenge,” Johnson said. “We lost a lot of players. Hughes and his staff made sure he wasn’t going to keep you if you were weak. You had to be mentally strong. They tried to break you, but I knew we had a chance to build something special.”
Johnson couldn’t be happier for his to decision to stay.
Now a senior, Johnson is set to compete in his 44th and possible final game Saturday when the Buffs play their regular season finale against MSU-Texas at 2 p.m., on J Ferg Field at Buffalo Stadium.
Johnson shows emotion after making a big play during a game earlier this year. [Mackenzie Teal/ Press Pass Sports]
Under Hughes, the 6-foot-2, 266 pound explosive d-end has thrived over the last three years. He’s started 31 of 33 games, made 128 tackles, and is a captain on the team.
Most importantly, Johnson’s patience has seen him play in a brand new stadium, while being a part of a winning culture that Hughes and his staff have brought back to WT with a 7-3 record so far this season.
“Gerred has seen success here at WT outside a win-loss record,” Hughes said. “His success is how he and the seniors have built within. He and those guys are a factor to where we are now.”
Here is a Q&A with Johnson from the rest of his interview.
How has your time been these past five years at West Texas A&M?
“It’s honestly been a blur. “But I love the school. This year especially. The students are getting on board and really paying attention. The Maroon Platoon has been special. I love WT, it’s been a great place. I’ve met some great people, and It’s been an incredible ride.”
How has it been playing for coach Hughes and the staff?
“I’m so proud of these coaches. They put in so much time and work, and they are always here for us. They teach us how to be men off the field, and on the field they are always there. They have true passion and I’d do anything for them.”
What’s this week like for you knowing it could be your final college game in front of the home fans?
“It’s an emotional week. I’m ready to finish strong and play hard for my team. Of course when the final buzzer goes off it will be surreal. But I’m just enjoying it and taking it day by day.”
How have you liked playing in the new Buffalo Stadium?
“Man, I love it. Kimbrough was a great place but this is the senior classes home. It’s ours and something we help build. It’s been a special place in the short time we’ve had it. It’s one of the happiest places to be.”
What was it like to finally beat Eastern New Mexico and win the Wagon Wheel?
“Words don’t do what I say justice. I never got to run and get the wheel. It was one of the best and humbling experiences. It opened my eyes to hard work paying off. It was the most grueling week of practice, and on gameday it all showed how hard we worked. It was a relief to finally get it done.”