Dakorey Johnson repeated three words as he took the field against Auburn last week.
“Do my job,” he said. “Do my job.”
It was his way of combating the enormity of his surroundings. Johnson, a senior linebacker, was making his first career start in the biggest of environments. No. 5 Auburn was the highest-ranked nonconference team to visit Manhattan since 1969, and an above-capacity crowd at Snyder Family Stadium roared with anticipation. ESPN was also televising the game nationally.
After years of hard work, he was finally getting his chance. But that’s not what he focused on.
“I just wanted to do my job,” Johnson said, “so I could help everyone else. That’s all I was thinking about.”
His mental preparation paid off. Though Bill Snyder’s decision to play an unknown backup over Will Davis raised more than a few eyebrows, many left the game wondering why they hadn’t seen more of Johnson in previous games. Johnson was K-State’s best defender against the Tigers, zooming across the field to make six tackles, including two for loss, and grab an interception. He brought much-needed speed and playmaking ability to a defense that looked slow and out of place at times in its first two games.
One start. One conference honor as defensive player of the week. The days of fighting for playing time are behind him.
“Dakorey is just a playmaker,” senior linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “He is a really smart guy. He prepared really well, he always does. I think it just shows on the field. It didn’t surprise me one bit that he played that well and got defensive Big 12 player of the week. He just does what he is supposed to do and he is a good guy to have on our defense.”
Added freshman Elijah Lee: “He has a lot of speed and is fast for a linebacker. He gets to the ball, moves well and he hits pretty hard.”
So, with all that going for him, why had he played such a minor role in K-State’s defense until now?
Johnson transferred from Trinity Valley Community College (Athens, Texas) last season and served as a backup to Truman at outside linebacker, while playing in every game on special teams. He opened his senior season once again behind Truman on the depth chart, and he technically remains listed there, but K-State coaches opted for a new lineup after Iowa State scored 28 straight points against the Wildcats. They moved Johnson to middle linebacker for the remainder of the game and he responded with five tackles. K-State also shut out Iowa State in the second half.
K-State coaches told Johnson early during Auburn preparation that his workload was about to increase.
“I guess they saw me and recognized I was having good practice sessions,” Johnson said. “I got a lot better as the season went on, so I gained confidence in myself.”
Johnson built on that confidence and did his job against Auburn.
“He has gotten substantially more repetition in practice because he has worked his way in to that role,” Snyder said. “He runs well and that is a benefit for our defense. I thought it was a matter of him being able to adapt to the system and understand the responsibilities and having the discipline to carry out the responsibilities like we like, and he has gotten better at it and it has paid off for him.”