How K-State’s Noah Johnson worked his way back into football

Junior offensive lineman Noah Johnson prepares to snap the ball during K-State's football game against Nicholls State in Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Aug. 31, 2019. The Wildcats took the Colonels 49-14. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Noah Johnson began attending Kansas State in the fall 2018 as a marketing major, not a football player. He just finished playing football at Butler Community College for two years immediately after high school graduation.

“He told me he was tired of carrying all the weight,” said Alan Schuckman, Johnson’s coach at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School. “He didn’t feel healthy.”

Schuckman came up to Manhattan to visit Johnson in his first semester, and Schuckman could tell something was different about him.

“I just remember talking to him,” Schuckman said. “Noah is a fun, loving guy. Lots of energy. He was not happy. I knew he was missing [not playing football].”

Not playing football was a massive change for Johnson. It was a big part of his life, and it was driving him crazy not being on a football field.

“He just couldn’t get [playing football] out of his blood,” Johnson’s mother, Julia Johnson, said in a text message. “Saturdays that year were very hard for him.”

The junior offensive lineman “got the itch” to play again, and he decided it was time to work his way back to putting on the cleats, jersey and helmet on again.

He began to workout to regain his weight and strength, going to the Peters Recreation Complex four to five times a week. He sent a text message to Taylor Braet, recruiting director, asking if he could walk on the team – and Braet said yes.

Johnson’s hard work paid off when head coach Chris Klieman called him into his office and offered him a scholarship, a moment Johnson will remember forever.

“It was a cool moment,” Johnson said. “All the work I put in. And there is no immediate award in front of you, but you just got to stay at it and once I got on the team it was kind of just staying at it and working as hard as you can. It’s nice to be put on scholarship. It’s a nice reward, but you got to keep working, because there is always stuff to improve on. I had no clue if I was going to get the scholarship. You don’t know that until you go out and prove it, so it was a big surprise. I’m really thankful and lucky it happened.”

Johnson left Klieman’s office full of rushing emotions, and the first thing he did was call his mother.

“I was just so very happy and proud of him,” Julia Johnson said. “He worked really hard and been through some tough times recently and it was beautiful to see that K-State appreciates him as much as I do.”

Not only was Johnson happy to receive a scholarship, but he said it felt good to make his mother proud and relieve the burden of tuition.

The Wichita native, said he always had the mindset that he could play at the Power Five level, and his stats at Butler and Bishop Carroll stand behind that.

At Bishop Carroll, a program with a rich tradition and two state championship appearances and one state championship ring in Johnson’s three-year tenure on varsity, he was a leader and a letter-winner all three years. He earned numerous honors while being a part of a combined 34-3 record: 2015 first team all-state honors and spots on the Topeka Capital-Journal and Wichita Eagle’s Top 11 teams.

At Butler, he earned first-team all-conference honors as a guard during his sophomore season of 2017, blocking for an offense that averaged 167 rushing yards with 22 touchdowns and earning honorable mention all-conference accolades as a freshman in 2016 as he played every snap.

Schuckman said there is no absolutely no doubt Johnson had the potential to play at the Power Five level.

“He is one of the best I have ever coached,” Schuckman said. “He has a leadership aspect to him that is hard to define. He was a varsity leader as a sophomore. That is hard to do — especially as an offensive lineman. The way he leads, it’s hard to explain. It’s encouraging. Noah liked every aspect of football from practices to film study to games. And to play at the college football level, you have got to be all in.”

Johnson said his time as at Bishop Carroll had a major impact on him.

“Coach Schuckman, [assistant] coach [Jim] Nance, the whole tradition, the upperclassmen, everyone I played with — those were some awesome times,” Johnson said. “And as great as Bishop Carroll was, Butler had an even greater impact on me, just learning work ethic and how to be a great teammate, just building relationships with people there as well.”

The 6-foot-1-inch, 286-pound junior stepped on the field as a Wildcat for the first time in the season opener against Nicholls State on Aug. 31, a moment he said he was very nervous for.

“A lot of the offensive linemen that went in when I was in would tell you that I was really nervous,” Johnson said. “But as soon as you get that first play in, it’s just going back to playing football. You just got to find some confidence in yourself. It’s hard, but you just got to relax and realize it’s football.”

Johnson said his goal in his junior and senior season is to help this team get the job done in any way he can.

“There is a lot of seniors on this team that have had a lot of success,” he said. “I would not label this a rebuilding year at all. I’m just trying to find my role and contribute by giving as much effort as I can being all the way bought in.”

The Wildcats are now 3-0 after a signature win at Mississippi State and look like a good football team heading in the right direction.

On Sept. 28, Johnson will play his first Power Five team in Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

“I’m sure I will be super nervous at the beginning [of the game], just like I always am,” Johnson said. “But once it gets going, it’s just football.”

Schuckman said Johnson is a special player, and K-State is lucky to have him.

“[Noah] is a flatout player,” Schuckman said. “He can play. He can play at any level. I wouldn’t be surprised if he can go the NFL. He has the mentality. He Just has something different than most people. He is a great teammate. As good as he is, he is a better person off the field. He is going to do big things in Wildcat land.”