The first time senior center Noah Johnson stepped onto the field as a Wildcat was in the 2019 season opener against Nicholls State. At the time, Johnson was a backup junior center snapping the ball to then-sophomore second string quarterback Nick Ast.
For his first snap in 2020 though, his role on the team will be much different. Johnson was recently named a team captain and will be leading the offensive line this year.
Being a leader isn’t new to Johnson, though. He was a leader during all three of his years on varsity at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Wichita, under head coach Alan Schuckman.
Schuckman said it is hard to describe how Johnson leads because the foundation of his leadership style is built on encouraging others.
“[Noah] has a huge impact on the offensive line,” offensive line coach Conor Riley said. “He plays the game the right way and is a great leader for our group. When we feel a little flat, when that confidence is being dented, he is the guy that is rallying the group.
For a center to do their job effectively on the offensive line, they must be able to communicate well.
“It really begins with our center,” Riley said. “His ability to communicate and get guys going in the right direction has been phenomenal. He’s a walk-on transition guy who’d never played center before and I couldn’t be more pleased with where Noah is at.”
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After graduating multiple seniors last season, the offensive line this year is inexperienced — consisting of multiple players who have yet to see a large amount of regular season playing time.
That doesn’t scare Johnson though — he’s very confident about this year’s group.
“At some point you have to be a little inexperienced and I will gladly trade inexperience for a group of guys who are playing hungry and are driven together, and I think that is what we have,” Johnson said. “I don’t think anyone in our locker room is satisfied with the results of last year, both personally and as a team. That is more important than having a few games under your belt.”
The Wichita native is known for having a big personality. Schuckman called him a fun, smiling guy with a lot of energy. Johnson said his personality probably gives him more leadership credit than he deserves.
“There is no question that Noah makes [the offensive line] have a lot of fun,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “He is the guy that has all the energy coming into the meetings. He is excited to practice. He challenges guys.”
Klieman also said Johnson is one of the hardest workers on the team. Even during the pandemic, Johnson found a way to get his hands on a football, snapping the ball every day in his backyard along with the help of some hometown friends.
In high school and even at Butler County Community College where he played before coming to Kansas State, Johnson never once played at the center position. Johnson did not get solidified at the center position until the spring of 2019 at K-State.
Snapping the ball isn’t easy, and Johnson knows that.
“The biggest thing is just getting comfortable with the ball in your hand because that’s all it is,” Johnson said. “Snapping can get in your head. I just want to play fast and play confident. I just try to replicate game reps [in practice] and I think it has really paid off. It is really exciting to have hard work pay off. To feel it is very rewarding.”
Johnson plays hard and with a chip on his shoulder to make up for being naturally undersized.
“For me, a chip on your shoulder is really more of a mental thing and that’s something I always continue to focus on myself — is to have a good mentality and know that some days are better than others,” Johnson said.
Klieman said the offensive line wants to prove they belong at this level, since people are doubting them. Johnson said that he is excited to help lead and be a part of a group of hard workers trying to accomplish big things in his final season.
“I’m a senior, and I do play center,” Johnson said. “Naturally, I do want that role of being the guy and being the leader, but it is about the whole group and the whole team. I want to compete for a Big 12 Championship and a National Championship. I don’t see any reasons not to reach those goals.”
Johnson’s first chance to achieve those goals will come on Sept. 12 when K-State takes on Arkansas State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.