Jordan Johnson: Things I Know

Sometimes it's easy for offensive linemen to fade anonymously into the woodwork of a college football team.
They do their jobs, often with little fanfare. Their names seldom end up in headlines.
They don't score touchdowns and they don't make tackles, so if their names show up on the final stat sheets it's on the participation chart.
They commonly aren't the sexiest guys on the roster—and fans may have to work overtime to assess their play.
Then there's UCF senior all-star center Jordan Johnson. He broke the mold.
This affable, easy-going, former vegetarian/current vegan, sleep apnea-survivor, one-time tennis player, video-game decliner, academic ultra-achiever, campus and community role model, one-time Florida fan and four-year UCF starter just might be the most interesting man in the world when it comes to the Knights' football roster.
This is an exclusive UCFKnights.com interview with UCF's starting football center. A 6-2, 300-pound senior from Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson is a two-time first-team all-American Athletic Conference selection and UCF's 2019 nominee for the William V. Campbell Trophy, presented each year by the National Football Foundation to the top football student-athlete in the nation.
My brother Kaleb is five years older than me. He played guard at Rutgers, then went to the NFL and he's still trying to play (he's currently a free agent). I grew up with him so we were really close. I have another older brother, Keric, who is two years older than me. He played football in high school--he just never got as big as us. I'm over 300 pounds now, and he might be 220. He was a lineman, and it's okay to be 220 as a lineman in high school, but not so much at this level. My brother played at Rutgers through 2014, and I went to many Rutgers games, including as a recruit. I saw the experience he was having and what it was like for a college athlete.
There's Kaleb. Then there's Keric and he goes by Josh. Then my given name is Kelton, and I go by Jordan. There's a biblical story behind it – in the Book of Joshua, Kaleb and Joshua were prophets and they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
My older brother liked the Gators and with me kind of following in his footsteps, I wanted to like everything he liked. In their glory years with Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, they were really good.
In addition to football, I wrestled all four years in high school. I wasn't that good as a freshman--I was still learning. My sophomore year I made it to state and then senior year I was third in the state meet at 285 (heavyweight). I was only 200 pounds as a freshman, maybe 220 as a sophomore. I also competed in the shot put, and I grew up playing tennis my whole life, so I played on the tennis team, too.
I guess you could say I was pretty highly recruited. I had offers from lots of places. I committed to Georgia Tech the summer before my senior year, and once I did that a lot of schools pulled out. I was set in stone—I was going to Georgia Tech and I let everybody know that. But eventually I decommitted and UCF was a school that never stopped talking to me. Coach Sean Beckton (now tight ends coach at Nebraska) was my contact, and he would always hit me up and stayed in touch with me even though I had announced for Georgia Tech. I changed my mind at Thanksgiving.
I had a lot of faith in UCF – there was something about this place. I could sense something special, even coming off an 0-12 season. Scott Frost was hired and he kept Sean Beckton and Travis Fisher (now the secondary coach at Nebraska). Coach Beck would say, "We just lost another game, we need you here. If we had guys like you here, we'd be alright."
I understood you don't see a lot of freshmen come in and start right away on the offensive line. So what I did was come right in and learn the plays like the back of my hand. I wanted to play. To be able to say that, I had to know what I was doing and the coaches had to trust me to know what I was doing. So that was the first order of business. As soon as I got on campus for fall camp, I started talking to the older guys and the coaches so I could learn what I needed to know. Chavis Dickey was a junior when I first got here. I ended up playing ahead of him in 2016 at the starting guard role, then I played next to him when I moved to center in 2017. He was a freshman All-American, still one of my good friends to this day.
My life is a lot different since I was diagnosed with sleep apnea after my freshman year. I was always tired, I did not have as much energy as I should have had and no matter how many hours of sleep I got I never felt very well-rested or refreshed. After a variety of tests it was determined I had sleep apnea, based on the number of interrupted breaths I took while I slept.
Since then I've slept every night with a CPAP machine which includes a mask that pumps air into my nose and helps me sleep. I guess I'll be continuing with this indefinitely. I've had it for two and a half years, and there's no telling how long I had sleep apnea before I was diagnosed. And I feel so much better now.
My brother Kaleb is vegan and has been for at least three years now. He told me he wanted me to be vegan, and I said, "No, bro, leave me alone." I was very dismissive of the whole idea at first. But we went back home for our Fourth of July break in 2018 and I told him I would try being a vegetarian for the week's span that I was home. When I tried it, I liked it, and so I wanted to see how long I could do it, without eating meat. Not vegan, just vegetarian. I did a lot of research and found out a lot of things about the meat industry and what meat does to your body and I decided I did not want to do that any longer.
So my New Year's resolution was to go vegan. I was vegetarian for six months and now I've been vegan for nine months. Vegetarians don't eat meat – some still eat eggs, fish, dairy, cheese, yogurt. Vegans do not eat anything that comes from animals--no meat, no dairy, no eggs--strictly things that grow out of the ground. I eat lots of rice and vegetables--stir fry is a great option for me.
Our Garvy Nutrition Center at UCF is a big help. They provide a vegan option for me for every meal. There are some other UCF teams like rowing and some teams that have international students—and they tend to have more vegans or vegetarians coming from other cultures. I'm the only one on the football team. I've tried to show a couple of guys the way. I tell them, "You haven't tried it." I encourage people to try it because I've tried food I would have never tried in a million years and now I'm so much more open-minded.
I spent a lot of time talking to people in the football building--they were worried I was going to lose weight. They did not think I could keep up with my protein intake. I let them know I would make sure all the boxes would be checked. Carly Fancher being hired on staff as a full-time nutritionist has been a great thing because she is always looking out for me. When we play on the road, she calls ahead to the hotel to make sure they have food prepared for me—even with postgame meals she'll make sure there are vegan options.
A couple of us just went over to the Boys & Girls Club last Thursday. It's a lot of fun because we've been there multiple times and built relationships with the kids. Anthony Roberson has been a big part of this community service initiative, too. We just hang out sometimes, but they know we are coming. We'll spend the afternoon. They know we are UCF football players—I think they think it's a big deal. Last year we went over there for Halloween--we dressed up and had them dress up and gave out Halloween candy and played games. I still have a picture on my phone of this little girl that we covered in toilet paper in the Halloween spirit. It was so much fun. I'm not a disciplinarian, but if a little kid is being disrespectful, I try to let them know that's not the way it should be. Give them some positive reinforcement—that's what everybody needs. I feel like we have influence, so the main thing is to use our influence for good.
I'm normally pretty easy-going and consistent. I get mad in certain situations, but I try not to act out of character and I try not to say anything I'm going to regret. When I do get upset, I don't let it get the best of me. When bad things happen to me, I don't let it ruin my day. It's not about what happens to you in life, it's how you respond to it. I'm going to make a positive out of it.
I guess I would say I'm one of leaders on the team. It's fun especially since we've been successful over the years. It's fun to see the growth and to encourage my teammates to get better. I let them know we should never be complacent. It's unnatural for me as the youngest of three boys in the family. It's weird for me to be telling people what to do or correcting them because it was the other way around at home with my brothers. But none of us are above anyone else. This is a partnership, not a dictatorship. We're going to bounce ideas off each other so we can all be successful.
I gave up video games two years ago. I was a nut, and every chance I got I was on Xbox, on the headset talking to my friends back home, playing Fortnite, Madden, 2K, Call of Duty, all of those. It was fun, but I got to the point where it was controlling my life. As soon as I got back to my room, I was turning on the Xbox. I am a strong advocate against addiction. So if I feel like I'm addicted to anything, I cut it out of my life. I have lots more free time now. I do community service in my free time.
Being a good student has always come natural to me. I'm not going to try to pretend I've excelled in school forever. In high school I was above average, I wasn't excellent. My mom does not allow C's. That's not okay with her. I'd have mostly A's and B's in high school and an occasional C. Then my mom would get upset and so the next semester I'd get an A in that class. When I got to UCF school came fairly easy to me, with advisers and tutoring sessions. I got straight A's my first spring semester. Ever since then I've been trying my best to get back to that 4.0 level.
I love the way we play with tempo on offense. You have to be in good condition. You have to play when you're a little fatigued. You just gave everything you had on the last play and then you have to sprint back to the ball and do it all over again. We try to score fast and we do. We go so fast that the coaches want me to run and find where the line judge is about to put the ball down. I eyeball it and as soon as he puts the ball down, they want me to snap it.
The NFL has always been my dream – so I'm definitely going to give it a shot. I'm considering pursuing my master's degree as well, whether it's something related to nutrition or sports medicine or maybe broadcasting.