For Darryl Johnson Jr., being good has never been good enough.
He did not grow up with aspirations of being just another football player.
He wanted to be the best.
The 6-foot-6 defensive end has always been fueled by an eagerness for greatness, something that prompted him to set lofty goals for himself ahead his junior season at North Carolina A&T.
He told anybody that would listen that he was going to lead the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in sacks. That he was going to appear on the All-Conference team.
That he was going to earn Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Such ambitious goals would have been a curse for some. For Johnson, they were motivation.
“Nothing is good enough,” Johnson told BuffaloBills.com. “Just not being satisfied. There’s always room for improvement. I just said, ‘being first-team All-Conference wasn’t good enough.’ So I set my goals high.
“Once you set them high and put the work behind them, it becomes true. So that’s what I did.”
Just as he said he would, Johnson led the MEAC in sacks in the 2018 season, tallying 10.5.
He received national recognition for his stellar play, earning a spot on the FCS All-American team.
He also earned MEAC Defensive Player of the Year honors, becoming the first A&T Aggie to win the award since 1997.
Earning the coveted award was the culmination of a life’s worth of hard work.
“It’s a great feeling,” Johnson said. “To sit down with your coach, to sit there and talk about it. My dad and I talked about it. We probably talked about it way before I entered college, probably the time I was entering college. He was like, ‘you’re going to be defensive player of the year,’ and things like that.
“Just speak it into existence, that’s what matters. That’s what happens when you put the work behind it.”
Though he did not predict that he would be selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, Johnson accomplished that goal, too. The Buffalo Bills selected Johnson with the 225th overall pick in the draft, their first of two selections in the seventh round.
Now finally on an NFL roster, Johnson can fondly look back on the long and tumultuous journey that has taken him to this point.
From the early morning workouts with a family friend to the adversity he faced as a zero-star recruit out of high school, it has all turned Johnson into the player he is today.
“My dad would always get us up, 4:30 in the morning, we used to work out with a guy named A.P. He used to have us running around the mall. At probably nine or 10 years old, I was like, ‘Wow, dad, you’re crazy, you have to be out of your mind.’”
“But my dad always taught us work ethic. He worked. My dad works hard. He’s still working, and he’s been working for a long time. Just looking up to him, he’s like a role model to me. I just look up to him, and he kind of paved the way and showed us that our work ethic should be something that comes first.”
Johnson left North Carolina A&T after his redshirt junior season, still having another year of collegiate eligibility remaining. Though he was set to establish himself as one of the most dominant defenders in school history, the value of an additional year of NFL tutelage was too much for the 22-year-old to pass on.
“[It was] just a business decision,” Johnson said. “You know, what if I go back and get hurt? Or what if I go back and don’t have the season that I had? I’m young. I just feel like my best football is ahead of me.
“Being in the NFL, coaches will help me elevate my game even more. I believe in our coaching staff at the Bills. I believe that they’re going to put me in the best position to get me ready and get me prepared to play.”
Johnson seems to have a knack for predicting the future. In a recent article for The Undefeated, he wrote that he hopes to be in Defensive Rookie of the Year contention come next January.
Though that’s still an ambition for Johnson, football’s version of Nostradamus has already identified another goal.
“That’s always going to be the goal,” Johnson said. “Try to be the best. I want to come in and soak in from the veterans and try to get on the field as fast as possible and try to do my thing, to help us win and become a championship football team."
With the 2019 NFL Draft officially underway, follow along with the Buffalo Bills to find out which players the team selects. Bills draft coverage is presented by ECMC.