The senior defensive lineman says he's been "more mature with my weight," and it's showing in his play during fall camp. No more trips to Ezell's, then McDonald's, then Taco Bell.
Shut the door. Close the blinds. Start cooking. That, in a nutshell, was the playbook for Jaylen Johnson’s summer.
Temptations are everywhere for Johnson, Washington’s fifth-year senior defensive lineman. Specifically, they are within eyesight of his apartment window in Lake City. There’s a Panda Express across the street, a Dick’s Drive-In around the corner and a Chipotle nearby.
Johnson knows them all. He knows them well.
Before he became serious about his diet, before he realized he couldn’t eat anything and everything he wanted and not suffer consequences, Johnson frequented fast-food restaurants with the joy and recklessness of a toddler in a McDonald’s playground.
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Looking back, he sheepishly recalled one outing with Vita Vea a few years ago.
“One night I was hanging out with Vita, and we went to Ezell’s and then we went to McDonald’s and then we went to Taco Bell. All in the same trip,” he said. “And then we went home and ate all of it.
“That was the kind of stuff I was doing to myself.”
Johnson loves to have a good time, loves to lighten the mood with teammates. That, he said, has always been a theme for the defensive-line room during his time on the team. It started with Danny Shelton four years ago — “The biggest jokester,” Johnson said — and was carried on by Taniela Tupou and then Vea.
Now Johnson continues the tradition with pride — and a mischievous smile.
“I’m rarely ever serious,” he said.
One of those rare occasions is when the topic turns to his weight.
“I’ve let myself down these past five years, as well as other people who expected a lot out of me,” he said. “For me, it’s about paying those people back by being consistent.”
What, in his mind, does that look like as he heads into his senior season penciled in as a starting defensive end for the No. 6 Huskies?
“For me,” he said, “what that looks like is being more mature with my weight and keeping that under control. And with that comes explosiveness and then violence off the line. Those are my biggest downfalls these past seasons. I know the defense. That’s never been a problem for me. It’s just playing fast.
“I’m very hard on myself, for sure. I’ve been here for awhile and I haven’t done anything in my mind. It’s really time for me to step into a different role this year. I have to. I’m one of the older guys and I have to be that guy in a great defense. I can’t let the standard slip.”
Johnson’s weight peaked at 308 pounds last year. He’s down to 281 now, and it’s probably not a coincidence that this fifth fall camp at UW has been his best yet. He credits the Huskies’ new nutritionist, Kyle Sammons, for showing him the path to healthier eating habits.
“Sammons taught me how to structure my meals. … We’ve been working really hard and I’ve been doing really good with my eating,” he said. “I feel a lot better.”
Most weekends this summer, Johnson outlined a meal plan for himself. He grilled salmon, steak and chicken on his small charcoal barbecue — adding in a serving of vegetables and “one scoop” of carbs (usually rice) — and tried to make enough to last him the entire week.
The best meals were usually the ones he shared with his fellow defensive linemen, when as a (large) group they would haul a barbecue out to Magnuson Park and feast next to the shores of Lake Washington.
In 37 career games, Johnson has 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. He expects his weight loss will be a significant gain in production this fall. Others do too.
“I always think he has more to him. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I just think he’s got more to him,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “You see flashes where he could be a real dominating player. He’s had a good camp and if he keeps pushing through this whole thing you could see a different-type player than we saw in the past.”