‘Grateful for the Path’: Xavier Johnson Ready To Cherish One Final Game as a Buckeye

In Xavier Johnson’s career at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have leaned on the sixth-year in a number of ways.

Whether that be at running back, wide receiver or special teams, Johnson has answered the bell when his name is called.

So when contemplating where he may play against No. 9 Missouri in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29, in what will be his final game as a Buckeye, Johnson said all he wants to do is “help the team win” at whatever position he is playing.

“Whatever I got to do to help the team win, go beat Missouri, be 1-0 in the bowl season. That’s where I’ll be,” Johnson said. “I’ll be full heartedly there. It could be kicker. I’ll go out there and try to kick, I can’t even kick, but wherever coach (Ryan) Day says, ‘We need you, Xavier.’ That’s where I’ll put my foot. Maybe the 10-yard line. I think punter would be better. I can place some punts.”

Johnson arrived at Ohio State as a walk-on in 2018. He turned down several scholarship offers to remain with the in-state Buckeyes as a native of Cincinnati.

Johnson has played in 54 games across his Buckeyes career. He’s seen the highest of highs and the College Football Playoff, and he’s been part of the lowest of lows across the past six seasons.

Johnson said “it means a lot” to wear the scarlet and gray uniform one more time in the Cotton Bowl.

“For me to know, having the foresight going in, that it’s the last step in the journey for me at Ohio State, I think it’s going to be a very, very pensive leading up to it and throughout it,” Johnson said. “I want to appreciate it the best I can, and I think that appreciating it and the work that I’m putting into it and everybody that’s come before me, everybody who’s poured into me, it looks like I’m giving my best on that day so that’s what I’m going to do.”

For most players and even in the cases of a walk-on, the thought of transfering to find greater opportunity crosses their minds.

In the case of Johnson, that may be especially true as he’s seen the rise of the transfer portal era and the one-time transfer clause.

For Johnson, the thought of transfering out of Ohio State and finding a new place to play did come up.

“If I’m being completely honest, yes, those questions crossed my mind,” Johnson said. “But then I just go back to everything I’ve learned and just the road that the Lord has taken me on. In this journey, though it hasn’t been exactly what I would I guess script it, Xavier Johnson the 18 year old, I think it’s been beautiful in its own way and its own right. And I wouldn’t change it for the world because of everything I’ve been through.”

And after almost six years at Ohio State, Johnson has taken many lessons learned from coaches, mentors and teammates.

“I’ve gained a lot of I guess perseverance or gained a lot of like headstrongness and resilience in everything throughout the process,” Johnson said. “And I think that if I was to leave that might not have been the case. And so, I’m very grateful for the path that the Lord took me on. It’s only a path that he could write so he’s going to get all the glory for it. And so at the end of the day, I think I’m going to look up five, 10 years later and be a better man, a better father, a better husband, a better son, a better man of God, all that just because of the path that the Lord has led me on. So, to say that I would have chose a different route, I can’t say that. And sometimes it’s like, ‘Dang, I wish I would have had, I would have done X, I would have done Y, I would have done Z.’ But the choice that I chose led me to be the man I am today, so I wouldn’t exchange that for the world.”

Johnson has filled roles asked of him by more than a half-dozen Buckeyes coaches, playing skill positions on offense and returning kicks and punts — even totaling 14 tackles and appearing at cornerback.

Perhaps one of Johnson’s greatest moments as a Buckeye includes his 24-yard touchdown to give then-No. 2 Ohio State a 14-10 lead over Notre Dame in a top-five matchup in the season-opener in 2022.

And among Johnson’s losses include three to Michigan from 2021-23. The most recent defeat by the Wolverines stings, and Johnson said leading “a group of guys who is willing, and not only willing, but matured enough” to put the past behind them has been rewarding.

“I think it’s hard because like I said we put a lot of work into it,” Johnson said. “A year worth of work goes into that and coming up short in something like that it’s something that has so much emotion also invested into it. It gets hard. But I think the mature group, the group that we have in the locker room, can come back from that and I guess persist or persevere through it and have something to show for it at the end of the year, and that’s what’s important.”

Prior to the start of this season, Johnson received the block ‘O’ jersey in honor of Bill Willis, and he was named one of Ohio State’s three captains in addition to linebacker Tommy Eichenberg and tight end Cade Stover.

It was an honor given to a player who’s outlasted the adversity that’s challenged him over six years at Ohio State, who’s outlasted the thought of leaving his home state team and who’s outlasted the desire to give up.

And on Dec. 29, Johnson will have one last opportunity to create a moment that will last forever in the minds of Buckeyes fans.

“I don’t know if I would be in the position I am and have the versatility I have today if it wasn’t for the trials and tribulations that it looked like back then,” Johnson said. “So I’m extremely excited to have gone on with Ohio State. I’m extremely excited to have my name be captain and have my name etched in history that way. My name will be attached to Ohio State and I pray that it’s in a good light.”

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