Zion Johnson reveals inside info on journey to become Chargers’ new starting guard
Zion Johnson spent most of his first full day as an NFL player in a place he’d never been before: Southern California.
The Chargers’ 2022 first-round pick grew up in Maryland and went to school at Davidson and Boston College before being selecting 17th overall in the NFL draft Thursday.
On Friday, Johnson traveled to meet his new team in person and take questions from the local media.
“When I was driving from LAX, I was like, ‘It kind of does look like L.A. on TV with the palm trees,’ ” he said. “There’s this certain lighting … it’s like this vibe … I don’t know how to explain it, but it looks like L.A. on TV, like one of the cop shows.”
Highlights of Johnson’s first face-to-face session with reporters covering the Chargers:
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Humble first steps: Johnson never played football until his junior year at Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro. Instead, he was a member of the school’s golf team, having picked up that sport after trying it during a summer camp.
The first person who suggested he might be good at football was the driver of a bus Johnson rode home after golf practices. But he wasn’t the one most instrumental in launching Johnson’s career.
“It was really my mom who pushed me to play,” Johnson said. “She always taught me that you should try things so you don’t have regrets later on in life. I’m glad I tried football because that would definitely be a regret I had.”
Tammie Edwards played basketball at Virginia Tech, where she was a record-setting rebounder as a center and power forward. Johnson said his mother has been the most influential person in his life, noting her work ethic.
“A lot of the qualities she taught me,” he said, “have made me the person I am today.”
Asked if he also inherited his athletic ability from his mom, Johnson smiled and said: “I think most of it comes from her. She was definitely a force in the post.”
From undersized to big-time: When he began playing football, Johnson said he was a 225-pound right tackle. Today, he’s a 6-foot-3, 314-pound right guard.
“Undersized is an understatement,” he said. “Our team played Chase Young. It wasn’t like we were playing scrubs or anything.”
Young, who went to DeMatha Catholic, was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 draft, selected by Washington. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie defensive end.
“Really for me at that point, I wanted to play football, wanted to prove that I could be a good player,” Johnson recalled of his debut in the sport. “Being undersized, I just had to strain on every play and try not to give up a sack.”
There was much conjecture about who the Chargers would take with their first pick in the NFL draft, but they could not ignore a shaky offensive line and selected Boston College’s Zion Johnson.
One of Johnson’s high school teammates was offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw, who was the No. 23 overall pick by Minnesota last year.
“He’s definitely someone who has pushed me throughout my career with his level of play,” Johnson said of Darrisaw. “I’ve always wanted to outdo him, kind of like a rival.”
The road to BC: Because he was a strong student, Johnson made it into Davidson, where he played for two seasons on a partial scholarship before money became an issue.
“There was a financial strain to my family that I didn’t want to happen anymore,” Johnson said.
So he entered the transfer portal and ended up at Boston College, he explained, because he liked the school’s academics and the football program’s history of developing offensive linemen.
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In three seasons with the Eagles, Johnson grew from being a nice story of perseverance to the fifth offensive lineman selected Thursday.
Man of many languages: Johnson graduated from Boston College in 2020 with a degree in computer science and earned his master’s degree in cyber security last fall.
He said he does computer programming “in my spare time” and has coded in at least six languages.
“When you learn one language, it’s not that hard to learn a new one,” he said, “because there’s a lot of similarities and things you can pick up on after you learn your first one.”
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