It's been eight years past when he thought it would initially happen, but Tripper Johnson finally played in his first collegiate football game this past Saturday in Washington's season opener against the Oregon Ducks. While the outcome of the game was not what Johnson wanted, he enjoyed himself none-the-less.
"It was a lot of fun. It's hard to take that we lost so bad, but it was a lot of fun - I had a lot of fun out there. It was pretty exciting to play in front of that many fans," expressed Johnson. "Again, it sucked to lose and get beat pretty bad. Going into it, we thought we had a good chance of competing, playing well and even winning the game, so that was disappointing, but I had a blast being out there again."
Although he may be 26 years of age, Johnson is still a freshman with regards to his experience on the college gridiron. The overall speed of the game is something many freshman mention as the biggest difference between high school and college ball, and Johnson is no different.
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"It's one of those things you can emulate in practice as much as you want, try to get the speed down, but it's nothing like game speed. Being away from the game for some time, I knew it was going to be fast, I knew these guys were going to be quick," explained Johnson. "It took me about a quarter or two to adjust to the speed of the game, but I felt I adjusted in the second half, and things started to slow down, I started to recognize things. I need game experience to get used to it. It took me a quarter or two to get used to that and I know it's going to take some time to get used to that."
The Huskies ran a 3-3-5 defense for a good majority of game, giving Johnson the opportunity to play more than he anticipated he would.
"I played more than I thought I was going to. I played in that three safety look quite a bit in the first half," explained Johnson. "Originally, I thought we were going to go with the four down linemen look. That first half, I was pretty surprised I ended up playing as much as I did."
With his first collegiate game under his belt, are the jitters out of Johnson's system?
"Yeah. I was a little antsy, a little nervous," explained Johnson. "It took me a quarter or two to slow it down, calm down and catch my breath. I needed some time to calm down."
Johnson also saw the field on special teams, returning kicks - something he feels will help him adjust to the game quicker.
"I think getting in on the special teams will help me get used to the speed of the game. It's going to take me some time to adjust to the speed of the game, but I think special teams is an area, where if I get some reps in there, it will kind of help out on the defensive side," expressed Johnson. "Hopefully I can keep working in on the special teams. That helped a lot, just getting used to the speed of the game and the strength of everyone. I think special teams will help me out a lot in my development."
Johnson, who played minor league baseball for eight seasons before deciding to try his hand in college football, was able to compare the beginning of his collegiate football career to the beginning of a baseball season.
"It's the same thing every year in spring training. For the first week or two, it seems like everyone is throwing 110 miles an hour. It takes a week or two to adjust to the speed, and especially seeing off-speed pitches, breaking balls - it takes a week or two to kind of get back in that rhythm," explained Johnson. "Being away from the game of football, it's going to take me some time. I felt like after a quarter or two, it kind of slowed down for me and I made some mistakes - I knew that was going to happen. All I can do is learn from the mistakes and move on."
The Huskies had problems tackling Oregon, a primary reason why Washington gave up 44 points to the Ducks. However, Johnson feels the team is taking steps to correct the issue.
"It's one of those things we've addressed this week. We did miss some tackles, myself included. It's just one of those things that we have to do better in practice. We've got to go game speed and wrap up. In practice, we do a lot of drills and a lot of reps where we kind of tag off and kind of wrap up - you're not actually tackling them," explained Johnson. "It's a big issue we addressed this week, is make sure you wrap up, make sure you set your feet, because it looked like, as a team, we were kind of leaving our feet, diving and lunging at guys. That's been addressed, and I think we're definitely going to get better - we'll be fine with that."
Despite losing by nearly five touchdowns to Oregon, Johnson feels the Huskies will rebound and maintain a high level of confidence.
"The confidence is still there. We watched the film and we didn't even realize that the score was 21 to 10 near the end of the third quarter. We were real close in that game, just that fourth quarter was a break down," said Johnson. "We were frustrated. The offense was frustrated because they weren't moving the ball. Defensively, we felt like we were kind of shutting them down in the second and third quarters and then we just kind of broke down. We felt like we were right there the whole game and we just couldn't get that momentum going in the fourth quarter. It's tough losing that game by that much - we didn't expect that, but we're going to bounce back and we're going to be fine."
There's always positives to be found in a loss, albeit a bad one, and Johnson has found some.
"A positive is game experience. We have a lot of young guys. I consider myself a young guy experience wise, so there's a lot of young guys out there with not much experience. To play a team like Oregon - they're a pretty good team, I expect them to have a very solid record at the end of the year - to play them first game, it's just going to help us. They're a good team, they're going to be one of the best teams in the Pac-10. The good thing is we got that first game out of the way. We got the experience out of the way and kind of get used to the game speed."
Washington now turns it's attention to BYU, and Johnson gave his take on the Cougars.
"They're much more of a downhill team, they're running game especially. They're kind of hit it straight down the field, and they're going to come after you. They have two big running backs and they run more of a pro style offense, where it's just in between the tackles. They're going to run right at you," said Johnson. "They have a very experienced quarterback who knows what he's doing back there. He's not really a mobile quarterback like we saw last weekend. He's definitely more of a pro style offense, pocket quarterback. That's what we're looking at. That's their game plan. We'll just have to make the adjustments and I think we're going to do fine."
It's looks as if Johnson will be granted two additional years to play after this season, something he is looking to utilize.
"I believe I have a third year, that's what they've told me. It looks like I have three years. I would love to complete as much as I can. The plan is, that I'll graduate in the spring of 2010. To play that third year, I would come back in the fall of 2010," explained Johnson. "We'll see where I am at that point in my life at that time, but I would love to play a third year. It's one of those things where I'll see where I'm going to be in my life and see where it goes, but I would love to come back for a third year."