Jaquan Johnson was already thinking about what he was going to say to his teammates in the locker room as he and his Miami teammates left their home field at halftime down 13 to arch rival Florida State last fall. His intentions were only reinforced when Hall of Famer Ed Reed, a Miami alum standing in street clothes on the sideline, walked up to the senior safety and told him something had to be said.
"He told me, 'Rally the guys 'Q'. Rally the guys. We're not playing our game. We're out of character,'" said Johnson. "That was everything I was thinking on the way to the locker room, so he basically just verbalized to me what I wanted to say. So I knew right away that once I got in the locker room I was going to have to say something. It was a sign."
Johnson had been giving his teammates pep talks since his high school days, so getting in front of them in a game of this magnitude was routine for the senior captain.
"I just told the team that we needed to play our game, we were playing undisciplined. We were playing out of character. We had to get back to what we knew and how we practiced," Johnson said. "On top of that I was a senior and that was my last (Florida State) game. So those guys respected me."
The result wasn't immediately what they were looking for to start the second half. Miami gave up a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown to go down 20.
But sooner thereafter, the comeback began. Miami forced a pair of turnovers, late in the third quarter, which helped lead to a pair of touchdowns in just 42 seconds to pull the 'Canes to within six (27-21).
The game-winning score would come with just under 12 minutes left in regulation to give Miami a one-point edge. The defense locked things down from there with Johnson logging a team-high 10 tackles in the largest ever comeback victory by the Hurricanes over Florida State.
"I never doubted," said Johnson after the game.
"That's what his teammates were talking about in that locker room after that game, that he stepped up and said something when it needed to be said," said Reed of Johnson. "You need leaders."
A special bond
Johnson was only a high school recruit at the time he first met Reed. It was at a University of Miami 'Paradise Camp,' a weekend recruiting camp run by the school to attract top football talent to the program. With alumni like Jeremy Shockey, Warren Sapp, Jonathan Vilma and Reed doing the coaching, Johnson had to introduce himself.
"I just gravitated toward him," Johnson said. "I wanted to talk to him and be around him. Being around that presence… it rubs off."
Reed took a liking to Johnson and his commitment to the game. After Johnson was offered a scholarship by the Hurricanes his junior year he committed to Miami right away. Johnson also made quick work of building a relationship with Reed.
"He actually reached out to me," Reed said. "That was the great part about Jaquan that I love. He's willing to learn. He's humble enough to take coaching. He's not a guy out here who is boastful and bragging and putting himself in the limelight. He's a humble kid and wants to be great. He studies the game. He's a student of the game. As a football coach that's what you want."
“He’s eager to learn and wants to be great. Buffalo got a steal at that pick.” Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed
Enhancing his play
Johnson would call Reed and ask him about football and about life. Reed would oblige giving him valuable knowledge about how to prepare for games, and how to prepare for life as a professional.
"Once I met Ed Reed my sophomore year going into my junior year, everything just started to change," Johnson told Buffalobills.com. "My sophomore year I was just making instinctive plays. Sometimes I'd make them, sometimes I wouldn't because I wasn't trusting myself or watching enough film.
"With Ed, he really showed me how to take notes and watch film and how to study a quarterback's favorite receiver and what he likes to do on certain downs and distances. Once Ed showed me that type of film study, my game elevated. It made the game easier. Easier to read opponents and to trust what I was seeing out there."
After two interceptions over his first two seasons with the Hurricanes, Johnson posted four interceptions in 2017, with another two coming last season. Five of Johnson's six career forced fumbles also came over his final two seasons as well as his three fumble recoveries.
"He's eager to learn and wants to be great," said Reed. "Buffalo got a steal at that pick."
What Reed did with Johnson's game was take very good natural instincts and paired them with the proper film study and preparation to cultivate more consistent production.
"The consistency of being a tough player, not turning down hits and making plays is all a part of the game," Johnson said.
A forever mentor
With his college degree in Human Social Development in hand, Johnson now embarks on a pro career that began in earnest last weekend at Rookie Minicamp.
"We have plays going in every day," Johnson said. "You have to study, take care of your body, be a professional. You can't really play around right about now if you don't know what's going on. I'm looking forward to the challenge. I've wanted to do this my entire life."
The day before he arrived last Thursday, Johnson called Reed.
"I called him on Wednesday and we just talked," Johnson said. "He basically told me, ''Q' it's alright. You're a rookie. You're going to mess up some things. It's going to happen. Just keep trying and take a lot of notes on everything.' That's the biggest thing with him. Taking notes, watching film and get on the JUGS machine."
Reed told Johnson every year he returned to the Baltimore Ravens from his offseason, he'd have a fresh new notebook in hand. The All-Pro safety never got rid of the old ones, but each year he wanted to start like he knew nothing and had to keep notes on everything.
Having a Hall of Famer, who played the same position as you is an invaluable resource that Johnson doesn't take for granted.
"Our relationship is amazing. I can text him or call him whenever," said Johnson. "I just asked him how I should approach things. He gave me advice like he always did when I was at the University at Miami. He's definitely someone in my corner and I can reach out to him whenever."
And Johnson intends to continue that practice going forward. While he certainly intends to take advantage of having veterans like Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer around every day, along with an astute coaching staff, Johnson knows the value that Reed has brought to his game. So he intends to keep growing as a safety with one of the best to ever play guiding him.
"I'm definitely going to be leaning on him in this type of situation," the rookie safety said. "He's going to the Hall of Fame. He's one of the best safeties to ever do it. So I'm definitely going to take a lot of advice from him."
And that Hall of Famer has a favorable outlook on Johnson's NFL career with the stability currently in Buffalo.
"As years go by, as long as coaching and everything goes according to plan for him, Jaquan will be a great asset to the Bills secondary," said Reed. "And to the NFL in general."