Johnson started 37 games at Notre Dame, compiling 97 career tackles. 18.5 of those tackles were for loss including 12.5 sacks. He also notched a forced fumble and four fumble recoveries, six passes defensed and a blocked extra point.
When healthy, Johnson showed what he could do as a 3-4 defensive end. In 2010—the only season he made all 13 starts—he had five sacks from a position that lets other pass rushers get the glory.
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From the bottom of the pile, Ethan Johnson couldn't see if USC had tied the game. But by the cheers of more than 80,000 fans at Notre Dame Stadium, the defensive lineman could hear the Irish defense had just come up big.
"The USC game was always special to me," said Johnson, a Portland, OR native. "Me being from the West Coast and going to Notre Dame made it that much better. It was a high point."
Hearing the home crowd after Notre Dame's first victory over USC in nine years was a high point, but those moments were rare during Johnson's star-crossed college football career. And until a month or so before the 2012 NFL Draft, Johnson was unsure if he wanted to continue playing at all.
Few could blame Johnson if he felt like walking away from the game. He had three different defensive coordinators and four different position coaches at Notre Dame, and each one had different ideas about how to utilize him.
Johnson said the changes "weren't very fun." It was hard to enjoy the game with no true position, either. After a promising freshman season where he tied for the team in sacks as a pass rusher, Johnson was shifted to the tackle position for his sophomore year.
That season, Notre Dame's defense struggled mightily to stop the run. Johnson, an undersized defensive tackle, anchored a poor group that surrendered an average of 32 points during four straight losses to end the year.
Johnson shined when he shifted back to 3-4 defensive end under new coach Brian Kelly. He helped Notre Dame win reverse the previous year's trend and win four straight, including the USC win.
But as soon as he found his comfort zone, Johnson suffered an ankle injury that limited his effectiveness during his senior season. When he returned from three games on the bench, he said he was nowhere near his original form.
Still, Johnson believes his struggles had a silver lining. Through the upheaval at Notre Dame, he learned multiple techniques and multiple playbooks.
Johnson thinks his knowledge of both the 4-3 and 3-4 should come in handy at the NFL level.
"That can only help me here," said Johnson. "The easy parts are in the classroom. I just want to get out there and play at my best."