AUBURN, Ala. — On Monday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn had a message for quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Sean White: meet him in his office at 1:30 p.m. local time. It was there that one of the worst-kept secrets in college football was finally revealed, as Malzahn informed Johnson that he would be the team's starting signal-caller this fall.
It certainly wasn't a shock to outsiders. As soon as the Outback Bowl concluded in January, Johnson moved to the forefront of Auburn's quarterback discussion. Nick Marshall himself — the player Johnson is replacing as the leader of the Tigers' offense — said as much following the bowl defeat, lending his full support.
"Jeremy Johnson, he's a great fit for this offense, and I'm right behind him," Marshall said. "(It's) 'Team Johnson' now."
Still, that didn't prevent Johnson from being a bit overwhelmed when he finally heard the news. In that moment, all the trying times of the past two seasons hit him.
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"This was just God’s plan. Sitting out the (last) two years, it was the most humbling experience I (have) had, from coming out of high school and being the star to sitting on the bench," he said. "It was a humbling experience and it made me better as a person. It made me become a team player and a role player that I never had the chance or opportunity to be from being a starter."
Johnson admitted that being a backup wasn't exactly what he envisioned after joining the team in 2013, fresh off being named Alabama's Mr. Football in his senior season at Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala. Now, he believes he's all the better for it.
"I feel really good, and I’m glad God put me in that predicament," he said. "It’s a blessing to be here.”
And he used that time on the sideline to do some observational learning. He watched the way Marshall carried himself, in both the best and worst of times. Johnson plans to do the same this fall.
"When things were going bad he was always the calm one. Being the quarterback, you have to be that way," Johnson said. "He never — his emotions never changed, whether we were down or up. That’s the biggest thing I took from him ... being a leader by example.”
But of course, if Johnson "won" the quarterback competition, there also had to be a "loser." That designation went to White, the redshirt freshman, who did his best to supplant Johnson this spring. Though it didn't happen, he has nailed down the No. 2 spot.
And once he found out Johnson had bested him, White handled the outcome with aplomb.
"He was happy for me. Sean has been supporting me ever since the first day he got on campus. He’s a great teammate," Johnson said. "Like I said, me and him got a relationship like me and Nick had. ... He’s a great person, a great player and he’s got a bright future ahead of him as well.”
The future will have to be put on hold temporarily, though. Johnson is the present — and he's well-aware of it. As the starting quarterback, he's the face of the Tigers' program. Not that he's worried.
He's already used to having the eyes of others focused on his every move.
"It’s been like that even when I wasn't the starting quarterback," he said. "Like I said, you got to handle yourself in a different fashion than everyone else and people on the street. I carry myself very well, I feel like. It’s a great feeling.