AMES — Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson went into lock-down mode in the days leading up to his titanic matchup last Friday with Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
He turned his primary cell phone off.
He talked only with teammates, coaches and the closest of friends.
And his distraction-free preparation — and performance — proved to be five-bars good.
“I didn’t get caught up in all the hype,” said Johnson, a future NFL Draft pick who went step-for-step with Blackmon, one of the nation’s best receivers, in a shocking 37-31 double overtime win over the Cowboys. “I think people were more nervous for me than I was nervous myself.”
Blackmon still put up solid numbers (10 catches, 99 yards, a touchdown).
He almost always does.
But he’s most dangerous after the catch and Johnson — who ESPN commentator Rod Gilmore said “made money” with his Friday night effort — severely curtailed that essential element of his game.
“It pretty much showed me where I stand,” said the fiery player known as “LJ,” who turns his attention to No. 12 Oklahoma for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at Norman. “But I’ve got to continue to bring it every week. I was on, I was hot. I’m not saying he wasn’t, but I felt he had to work for everything he was given. It pretty much reassured me that I am a good football player.”
Few have questioned that since Johnson became a fixture on the ISU campus in 2008.
But a good cook, too?
“Yeah,” said best friend and safety Ter’Ran Benton, whose interception in double-overtime Friday preceded Jeff Woody’s winning touchdown run. “LJ can cook. He knows how to cook, he knows how to talk and he knows how to cut hair.”
Benton and Johnson plan a southern-style turkey dinner for Thanksgiving today.
Mainly, that involves roasting a turkey that first gets a liberal soak of Louisiana Hot Sauce.
“Get the hot sauce ready,” Benton said. “Get the grease ready.”
Benton saw a hyper-prepared best friend in the days leading up to the Oklahoma State game.
“That’s one dude that I know that loves the game of football,” Benton said. “He knew if he did good, it’s gonna look good on him — his NFL stock, whatever. But he knew. LJ, one thing about him is he watches a lot of film. He watched a lot that whole week and I know he’s going to watch it this week.”
Johnson powered his main phone back up after the win.
Congratulatory texts and calls rolled in, including some from the children he held a camp for last summer in his home town of Clearwater, Fla.
“I got calls from everybody,” Johnson said. “All the little kids from back home calling me up — ‘I saw you on TV.’ Old coaches. I got calls from family members. Family member I ain’t never heard of. Cousins I ain’t never heard of.”
Everyone’s heard of Johnson now.“To contain (Blackmon) below 100 yards and to help shut him down as Leonard did for most of the evening, I think will quickly be taken of note by scouts and coaches across the country,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said.