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Jadar Johnson stepped back from the podium as a shy smile stretched across his face. He clutched the podium and rocked.

“I ain’t even gonna lie to y’all. I’m nervous,” Johnson said, as he addressed a crowd of eager and exuberant fans.

It was Jan. 14, 2017. Nearly 65,000 people filled the lower bowl of Death Valley to celebrate the national championship the Clemson football team earned earlier that week.

Team leaders rotated to the microphone to share thanks and thoughts on the milestone achievement. Johnson, a senior safety from Orangeburg, allayed his nerves and acknowledged his coaches, mentors and teammates.

After three minutes, he paused.

“I’m still nervous,” he said to a roar of laughter, “but I’m still not done.”

Johnson proceeded into a two-minute, heartfelt tribute to his father. The speech evoked an ovation from the crowd and astonishment from his coach.

“I’ve been with Jadar Johnson four years,” Dabo Swinney told the crowd. “That’s the most I’ve heard him say in four years.”

Johnson’s play was always louder than his voice, but, on that day, his words resonated. The reserved prospect blossomed into a team captain. That speech provided a lasting image of his transformation.

It is a stark contrast to the images Clemson fans saw this week.

Johnson was one of three men Clemson police arrested and charged with armed robbery Wednesday. Johnson, former Clemson running back C.J. Fuller and former Duke lineman Quaven Ferguson were also charged with possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.


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