Thursday, October 9, 2008

N.C. State's Clem Johnson almost ready to play

There aren't many N.C. State players who can use an open date more than Clem Johnson. During preseason practice, Johnson quickly distinguished himself as a likely starter at the boundary safety position. But then he suffered a broken jaw in a preseason scrimmage.

Coach Tom O'Brien initially feared he would be out all season. Johnson returned after about six weeks, but now is behind schedule in terms of learning how to fit into the scheme of the defense. He's a junior college transfer in his first season with the team.

"We'll take advantage of the week we have off," he said. Johnson said the pain of the broken jaw can't match the agony of being unable to eat with a jaw that's wired shut. His stomach would hurt when he went to the cafeteria and saw other students eating. His own diet was limited to liquids, especially milkshakes. Even when he got the braces off, he was disappointed.

"Before I got the wires off, I'm thinking, I'm going to have steak, chicken," Johnson said. "But my mouth wasn't ready for all the hard, solid foods. So I pretty much had to eat the tender foods."

Johnson said he isn't shying away from contact because his doctor told him that when healed, his jaw would be at least as strong as it was before. He recorded his first career interception last week in the fourth quarter against Boston College. And he is trying to take advantage of the extra practice and put himself in a more prominent role. – Ken Tysiac