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Jett Johnson – Nightmare for Offenses

Jett Johnson

The position of linebacker is one that requires a hybrid level of skills. They have to be a pass rusher, through the line and the edge. Plus, they need the skills of a defensive back as well. They protect against the run and the pass. At Mississippi State, Jett Johnson is the kind of linebacker who has those skills and is a nightmare to offenses he faces, He has the kind of toughness and talent it takes to play the position.

In 2022, Johnson set the SEC record for tackles with 115, eight-and-a-half for a loss and two sacks. Between him and running mate Bookie Watson, they were the only teammates from a Power Five school to finish number one and two for tackles in their conference.

This year Johnson is on pace to equal or better that record at this point in the season. He already leads the SEC with 66 tackles, 24 solo, four sacks, and two interceptions with 33 yards on the ground from those. In the toughest games State has played so far, against LSU, South Carolina, and Alabama, he got 14 tackles in each. Unfortunately, those were losses, but Johnson seems to shine in adversity.

Before coming to the Dawg Pound, Johnson was an impressive prep star at the position.

It Started in Tupelo

Johnson played middle linebacker at 6A Tupelo High School, in Tupelo, MS. Even then he was impressive, helping his school to an 11-1 and a spot in the state playoffs. That year alone he had 147 tackles, 90 of them solo. Over his high school career, he amassed 447 tackles, 44 for a loss, 10.5 sacks, and eight interceptions.

His Tupelo High School coach Trent Hammond told the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) that he doesn’t fall for what they call “eye candy.” “He does a really good job of taking stuff from drills and workouts and transitioning those things in the ballgame, and Jett does the extra work, too,” Hammond said. “He’s going to be the first one to arrive and the last to leave. He just always seemed to be in the right place for our defense. When we needed to make a play at crunch time, he was the guy who would find the football.”

By the time he graduated, Johnson had accumulated many accolades. He became a three-star recruit according to ESPN and 247Sports. Johnson was ranked a number 21 overall prospect in Mississippi and number 35 nationally by 247Sports. He was also dubbed the coveted Mississippi Class 6A Mr. Football, the first defensive player ever to win the award.

Then Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen surely knew the value of Johnson and was eager to get his commitment.

“Mama Fran” and a House Divided

Johnson was raised by his mother Frances and father Greg Johnson. Greg grew up 30 miles from Starkville, a huge Mississippi State fan. His mother was into Sorority life at Ole Miss, as a member of Chi Omega. Her father, Lloyd Tate, actually played football at Ole Miss. In a state where animosities run high between the two schools, one can only imagine the turmoil within the family.

Still, Jett and his older brother Tate spent fall weekends attending games at Davis-Wade. That happened thanks to tickets from their father, no surprise there.

In an interview with Joel Coleman, senior writer for Mississippi State, Johnson recalls those weekends fondly. “My favorite moment was probably in 2014 when we went to No. 1 in the nation,” Johnson said. “I was at the Texas A&M and Auburn games that we won. I was probably 14 or 15. It was a memory I’ll never forget. ESPN College Gameday was there and all that. That was so awesome.”

Today, Johnson is a graduate student at State, his mother Frances has been on the MSU campus with him since the beginning. She dropped the Rebel ties but not the ones with Chi Omega. She is known as “Mama Fran”, the house mother at the Chi O house. There is a large picture of the team with Johnson in the center, leading the team onto the field. He is just known as “Mama Fran’s boy.” In an interview with Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger, Johnson said the girls have a special feeling about her.  “I’ve had a countless number of Chi O girls come up to me and say, ‘We love your mom. We can talk to her about anything,” Johnson said. “She’s a great role model and Christian woman to grow up around. That speaks volumes about her.”

Once a Linebacker…

If anyone knows anything about playing linebacker, it’s head coach Zach Arnett. He played four seasons in the position at the University of New Mexico. In his senior season, he led the nation with six forced fumbles, 92 tackles, 11 for a loss, and two sacks. In one of his call-in shows, he talked about the seniority Johnson and Watson bring to the locker room. “To be able to bring back that level of maturity and experience is big because you want to have more mature guys,” Arnett said. ”They prepare like professionals. It’s great to have them mentor and bring along the other guys. That linebacker room has a little bit more age, experience, and maturity to it. That’s why they’re the most consistent performers.”

During the bye week, Arnett let the team off Thursday through Sunday. The prep week before Arkansas will tell if quarterback Will Rogers, running back Woody Marks, and a host of other offensive and defensive injured players come back whole. As for the defense, at least the linebacker core is solid, thanks to Johnson being a nightmare to opposing offenses and firing up his team when he comes off the field. Arnett is appreciative. “Veteran guys are battle-tested guys who know what it takes to play a 60-minute game and then some,” Arnett said. “It’s good to have that because they provide leadership to everyone else there on the sideline.” The Dawgs will need that as they head into a four-game SEC gauntlet. With Johnson, there is hope for that future.


Jett Johnson
Photo courtesy: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


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