Few UK football players in recent years have been as outgoing as Cory Johnson, the gregarious defensive lineman who came to Lexington from the junior-college ranks and left reporters in stitches after his first press conference on national signing day 2014.
Johnson, while acknowledging his talent for being a cut-up, said that day that he didn’t want to come off as a joke. He came to UK from ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., wanting to make a serious contribution on the football field.
He did that this past season for the Wildcats, and he held court one last time Friday after participating in front of dozens of NFL scouts at UK’s pro day combine.
Johnson said some of his past comments have come up regularly as he meets with representatives from different NFL teams. He recalled one recent conversation with the Seattle Seahawks as an example.
“They said I fit in good with their team,” Johnson said, setting up the punchline. “Because I have a loud mouth.”
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound player is a versatile defensive lineman who is expected to catch on with an NFL team for training camp even if he’s not selected in next month’s draft.
They say a player should be able to say he’s proud of everything he’s done at the end of the day. And I feel like I’ve done that. I did everything I could have, and I’m proud of my career.
Cory Johnson, former UK defensive lineman
Johnson noted that he’s getting good draft-related feedback from some teams, and that feedback includes that they like his personality off the field. “They love talking with me, because I’m myself,” he said, adding that he approaches restaurant visits with NFL reps as an opportunity for a good meal and a good conversation more than a job interview.
On the field, he stepped up his game as a senior, starting nine of 11 games, leading the Wildcats with eight tackles for loss and recording 67 total tackles, second-most on the team. That came after Johnson’s tough adjustment to major college football and a debut season in Lexington that included less production than he had expected.
“It’s been a stressful ride,” Johnson said. “But to finish off as strong as I did and to help my team out as much as I did ... I felt good.
“They say a player should be able to say he’s proud of everything he’s done at the end of the day. And I feel like I’ve done that. I did everything I could have, and I’m proud of my career.”
UK defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh also pointed out that — while many UK players left campus following the season to prepare for the draft — Johnson stayed in Lexington so he could complete his degree in community leadership and development.
He’s set to graduate in May.
“That’s the best of both worlds, because that shows toughness, grit,” Brumbaugh said. “You know, when he could be doing something else, he’s here trying to finish up both. He’s training and he’s trying to get his degree done.”
Johnson, who came to UK with an associate’s degree in criminal justice, said Friday that he’s not exactly sure what he wants to do with his life after football, whether that comes sooner or later. He said the idea of going into communities and having a positive effect on people’s lives is an appealing one.
When asked if he’s ever thought about parlaying his gift for gab into a TV or radio gig, Johnson acknowledged that the subject has come up.
“I ain’t got no choice but to think about it,” he said. “People tell me that it seems like — if I don’t make it in football — I’m going to get pushed toward it anyway. But, you know, that would be straight, because I’m comfortable in front of the cameras already. If I can get something in front of the cameras, talking, I would love to do that.”
With a smile, Johnson added ...
“If one of y’all is hiring, I’ll take an application.”