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UND senior Jawon Johnson will play in front of his mom at Stony Brook for first time since high school

GRAND FORKS, N.D.--University of North Dakota senior linebacker Jawon Johnson is experiencing something completely new this week. He's fielding calls from family members looking for tickets to his game. Johnson, of East Orange, N.J., will be a ke...

Jawon Johnson
Jawon Johnson

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-University of North Dakota senior linebacker Jawon Johnson is experiencing something completely new this week.

He's fielding calls from family members looking for tickets to his game.

Johnson, of East Orange, N.J., will be a key part of UND's defense in the season opener Sept. 1 at Stony Brook, N.Y., about a three-hour drive from Johnson's home.

Johnson's mother, DeShawn Johnson, has never seen him play college football. He started his career at a junior college, New Mexico Military Institute, before transferring to UND.

"There's going to be a lot of family out there," Johnson said. "... cousins, aunts and uncles. It's going to be packed. It's going to be good to go out and play in front of my family. It'll be motivational. I want to be doing everything right.

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"My mom has been calling me about it every day. I was like, 'Mom, you might have to buy tickets. I can't get 30 tickets from my teammates.' "

UND, which went through practice indoors at the High Performance Center on Thursday to avoid rain, is hitting the home stretch of fall camp.

As camp winds down, Johnson is in one of the tightest position battles. He and Jake Disterhaupt are neck and neck at outside linebacker opposite Brian Labat.

Johnson, at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, was moved from safety to outside linebacker midseason last year.

He made 39 tackles, which was fifth on the team in 2015 and is the third leading tackler from last year returning in 2016 behind only captains Cole Reyes and Connor O'Brien.

When Johnson was moved midseason last year, UND outside linebackers coach Joel Schwenzfeier said Johnson was given watered-down assignments due to the heavy learning curve associated with the position change.

During spring ball and fall camp, though, Johnson has caught up to speed with the full array of responsibilities.

"For him, the easiest thing is the coverage stuff because as a safety he knows that inside and out," Schwenzfeier said. "His run fits are getting more comfortable. That was the big challenge in the spring. We were throwing him in the fire a bit."

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Schwenzfeier said outside linebacker fits Johnson's strengths.

"This is the more natural position," Schwenzfeier said. "He's aggressive and wants to play in the box. When he triggers, he hits things hard and has a good feel. Big things are expected of him."

Schwenzfeier categorized the battle between Disterhaupt and Johnson as 1A and 1B.

Johnson said he likes his new position, although it took some adjustment due to the more physical nature of playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

"I like playing in the box and rushing the passer," Johnson said. "There's a little bit of everything at outside backer. That's the best part about it: Playing in the Big Sky with teams who like to go fast."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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