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Penn State receiver Juwan Johnson delivers on potential

| Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, 8:06 p.m.
Penn State receiver Juwan Johnson (84) catches the winning touchdown pass between teammate DaeSean Hamilton (left) and Iowa defensive backs Manny Rugamba and Miles Taylor (right) as time expires.
Penn State receiver Juwan Johnson (84) catches the winning touchdown pass between teammate DaeSean Hamilton (left) and Iowa defensive backs Manny Rugamba and Miles Taylor (right) as time expires.
Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson hauls in a pass during football practice, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 in State College.
Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson hauls in a pass during football practice, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 in State College.

UNIVERSITY PARK — As a redshirt freshman last season, Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson made only two catches for 70 yards. On Saturday, with the Nittany Lions down 19-15 to Iowa, Johnson stepped up when his team needed him most.

During the final drive that lasted 1 minute, 42 seconds, Johnson had three catches for 37 yards and the winning touchdown — the first of his career — on fourth-and-goal as time expired. Johnson proceeded to shush the Iowa crowd as his teammates celebrated with him.

“I kind of blanked out,” Johnson said. “It was kind of like, ‘I can't believe it happened.' But I know it can happen, I've been practicing it for so long. It's kind of like a dream.”

Johnson has 14 catches and 197 yards this season. He led the Lions in receiving yards in their opener against Akron and was the top receiver not named Saquon Barkley against Iowa. In comparison, Chris Godwin had 19 catches, 228 yards and two touchdowns through four games last year for the Nittany Lions.

Johnson was a four-star recruit and rated as a top-25 receiver in the country. In his third season, Johnson is delivering on that promise.

“I've grown tremendously in my spiritual walk with God,” said Johnson, whose fourth-ranked Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) host Indiana (2-1, 0-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. “That pretty much put me in the position where I am now and being able to dedicate myself in football and invested in myself and what I had to do with my body and my mind in terms of the physical aspect. I had to devote a lot of time in getting better and being an asset to the team.”

Johnson was one of the more talked-about players entering the season after top receiver Godwin left for the NFL. Godwin had 59 catches for 982 yards and 11 touchdowns — all team highs — last season. Before the season, receivers coach Josh Gattis said he knew Johnson was going to be special.

Running backs Mark Allen and Josh McPhearson lauded Johnson's work ethic, and backup quarterback Tommy Stevens had high praise for Johnson after Penn State's spring game. Stevens described Johnson as one of his best friends and an even better person.

“I remember meeting (Johnson) on my official visit and just thinking, ‘Man, this guy is a freak,' ” Stevens said. “He's doing a fantastic job, and it's just another example of a guy that came to work every day prepared like he was a starter, and he's getting his opportunity to shine.”

Johnson had the same praise for Stevens, with whom he worked out with over the summer, sometimes late into the night.

“I would usually be — either with Tommy or Tommy and Saeed (Blacknall) at 11 or (midnight) or sometimes 1 in the morning,” Johnson said. “We would be there just working out because we knew we had a big season ahead of us, and we knew we had a lot of expectations and a lot of dreams to fulfill and we wanted to beat teams.”

Since making the winning catch, Johnson described the past week as “hectic,” including making a “SportsCenter” appearance.

Jack Miller is a freelance writer.

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