COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Jerrod Johnson is always looking for ways to become a better football player and sometimes that happens in unusual places.
The star quarterback from Texas A&M spent last spring student-teaching elementary and high school kids, and football wasn't necessarily the first thing on his mind. Now that he's back with his teammates, he's found that the skills he used in the classroom have helped improve how he deals with things on the field.
"The biggest thing for me was understanding that people have different strengths and weaknesses," Johnson said. "Kids have different strengths and weaknesses, and whether it's in the classroom or on the field, every guy has their strength and you try to use their strengths and try to build up those weaknesses. It's kind of parallel in that sense."
Johnson's mother is a teacher and his late father was a longtime coach, teacher and high school principal. He believes the lessons he took from them along with what he has learned while following in their footsteps has shaped the way he sees the world.
"I think it has," said Johnson, who already has his undergraduate degree and is certified to teach. "I think all my experiences, whether it be working at camps, student teaching, I think all the things I've been fortunate enough to do have molded me as a person. I think all of that does help a little bit on the field."
Johnson is hoping to get the best out of himself and his teammates as the Aggies try become one of the Big 12's elite in his last year in College Station. They'll get the first chance Sept. 4 in their opener against Stephen F. Austin.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback led the league in total offense last season with more than 314 yards a game. He threw for 30 touchdowns and 3,579 yards and ran for 506 yards and eight more scores.
But those gaudy numbers didn't equate to many wins with the Aggies finishing a disappointing 6-7.
"As I told him, his legacy is somewhat like mine, the stats and all that stuff don't mean a whole lot," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "The only one that really matters is whether you win or you lose. That's how they're going to remember him. No matter how many touchdown passes or how many records he breaks, his legacy will be on whether he won or lost."
Texas A&M coaches don't like the games last season where Johnson had great statistics, but the team lost. One example that stands out is a 49-39 defeat by Texas where he threw for 342 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 97 more yards.
"The (No. 1) thing is that he do everything he can to win games and not win anything else but games," quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley said. "Our bottom line every game is to come out with a 'W' and if it means he throws three passes and completes all three or if he throws 40 passes and completes 39, whatever he has to do to win is more important than anything else."
Johnson is proud of the numbers he put up last season and of the honor of being picked by the media as the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year. Still, his only goal this season is helping the Aggies be better than they were last year and build a foundation for success in the future.
"That's one thing that I feel like I do have a little bit of control over," he said. "I'm just trying to work my hardest and prepare myself for us to win as many games as possible. I think with all these young guys and the talent we have, I think if we set a good example for them, they can take that and roll with it ... and just kind of put A&M back where it needs to be."
Sherman marvels at how Johnson has grown into his role as team leader.
"His teammates have a lot of respect for him," the coach said. "He doesn't mind calling people up and calling them when things aren't right. He holds people accountable and I think in order to be a great leader you have to really hold yourself accountable first and foremost which he does."
Johnson decided this summer that he needed to improve his skills and found a willing tutor in former Aggie quarterback Kevin Murray, who played for Texas A&M in the 1980s and is now a high school football coach in the Dallas area.
"You can never be too fundamentally sound," Johnson said. "It's still a work in progress. I'm just holding the ball a little higher and trying to have the urgency of getting it out of my hand and just trying to deliver it as quick as I can."
He believes the work he put in with Murray and in the grueling two-a-day practices of August will pay off when the season begins and the pressure mounts.
"You try to put yourself in as many situations as you can and you just try to prepare for the moment," he said. "You try to get as many triggers for yourself so that you know that when they do this coverage or when that moment comes when you're tired and it's on national television that you can just react. So it's all about preparation."