Jeremy Johnson surveyed the crowd of unfamiliar faces and smiled.
"I've never seen so many cameras at one time in my life," Johnson said.
SEC media days served as Johnson's introduction as Auburn's starting quarterback to the broad base of media. Most of the players taken to Hoover for the media feeding frenzy are established stars. Johnson might have the least amount of playing experience of any player ever taken to the event. But he didn't seem to be the least bit unnerved by all the attention.
After spending two seasons standing on the sidelines watching Nick Marshall run the Tigers' spread offense, Johnson was more than happy to give up one of his summer free days to represent Auburn. It comes with the role of being a team leader.
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Johnson said all the right things about being supportive of Marshall, who won the starting job early in preseason practice in 2013 and steadily developed into one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks in college football.
But Johnson didn't go so far as to feign contentment being the understudy. Nor should he have done so. He was Alabama's Mr. Football in 2013 when he signed with Auburn. When Gus Malzahn returned from Arkansas State to replace Gene Chizik, many people assumed Johnson would win the starting job as a freshman -- himself included.
"My approach is to just stay humble," Johnson said. "I'm blessed to be in this situation. I'm blessed to have this opportunity to be the quarterback at Auburn University. I'm just ready to lead my team each and every game. We've got a lot of weapons around me and I feel comfortable.
Johnson may be the new starter, but he far from a secret weapon. He's already on most of the Heisman-watch short lists. Betting website Bovada rated his chances of winning college football's most prestigious award at 10-to-1, tied with Georgia running back Nick Chubb for best in the SEC. The fact that Bovada places him above Mississippi State's Dak Prescott reflects the expectations for the Tigers, who have been pegged by many to win the SEC and reach the four-team playoff. But it's a little unclear which is the cause and which is the effect. The main reason some are hesitant to pick Alabama or Georgia as the conference favorite -- and, by extension, a playoff team -- is their mutual uncertainty at quarterback.
It might seem a little presumptuous to put so much on a guy who has two career starts under his belt. But consider the recent honorees. Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston had never taken a Division I snap before their Heisman winning seasons. So by comparison Johnson is a grizzled vet.
Sure, his first start is hardly worth mentioning as it came against Western Carolina. The second one, though, is hard to ignore. Marshall had been suspended for last year's season opener against Arkansas after being caught with marijuana in his car. Even though Johnson returned to the sideline after halftime, he had made a lasting impression. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Only one other player in Auburn history had passed for more than 200 yards in a half. That was Newton against South Carolina -- his fourth start.
There's also this: Marshall's suspension came well before preseason practice started. So Johnson went through all of preseason practice as the starter.
Johnson "handled himself extremely well," Malzahn said. "Now he's in the starting role. We feel very good about where he's at and really a leader of our team."
Johnson is more than just the face of the team. He's also the voice. He's not outspoken by nature, but he has not been afraid to speak up among teammates, especially during the summer when contact with coaches is limited.
"My time is here now and I'm blessed," Johnson said. "I've been preparing for a start since I got to Auburn, so I felt like a starter but I wasn't playing. Now that my time is here I can release everything that I had inside me while I was sitting out those two years."
That's not a comforting thought for defensive coordinators.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org