Sept. 19, 2012
By Aimee Dulebohn, MSU Athletic Communications Staff Assistant
As the sun set on practice the week after the Boise State victory, two players remained on the field well past the final whistle.
One of them was Johnny Adams.
A fifth-year cornerback, Adams has set himself up to have a stellar senior season. Named to the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award watch list, given to the top defensive back in the nation, he is in the position to solidify his name in Spartan football history.
Now in his third year as a starter for the Big Ten's top defense, Adams was named a preseason second team All-American by Sports Illustrated. With his eye on the prize, Adams has high hopes of winning the coveted Thorpe Award. He knows exactly how he can accomplish that and what he needs to do to prove he is deserving of the recognition.
"This year is my last year, so I want to be a dominant cornerback," Adams said. "I want to be able to stop the run when needed, stop the pass when needed and be able to blitz effectively. I would like to just have an all-around game as a cornerback."
From day one, the Akron, Ohio, native knew that Michigan State would be the perfect fit for the expectations he set for himself. The environment was a perfect complement for what he wanted to accomplish.
"I wanted to come to Michigan State because of the people," said Adams. "When I came here for my visit, I just noticed that there were a lot of great people here. The coaching staff welcomed me and my family."
One of those great people, as Adams points out, is secondary coach Harlon Barnett. The relationship the two have is not your average coach and player dynamic.
"Coach Barnett has been like a brother to me," Adams said. "Anything I need, I can call him at any time of the day. It's more than just football with us. It goes farther than that. We talk about football stuff at football time, but we also
have a relationship outside of football that will go on for a much longer period of
Barnett has been able to see the progress Adams has made, both on the field and in his mentality, and is glad to have him return for his senior season.
"He's grown extremely," said Barnett. "He's grown physically; he's now one of the strongest guys in the backfield. Mentally, I think he's matured a lot. I know he has a better understanding of the game itself and how to play cornerback. He's already a naturally talented sports guy, meaning that he understands the psychology of sports. He understands how guys are going to try to attack him, how guys will move off the line or formations and how guys will line up. He remembers that kind of stuff. He's matured significantly in that sense."
His growth will be critical as he hopes to continue to meet expectations and standards at the next level. While many are predicting Adams will be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, he would welcome any opportunity that comes his way.
"After football, I want to coach," said Adams. "Maybe go back to my high school and help out teaching younger kids. I just like to help kids. It doesn't matter what I do after I'm done playing, I just want to help people in general, kids more than anything. That's my main goal."
"To be the best defense, I think you have to have all 11 guys on the same page. I think right now, we're in that process. I've been here five years and this is the best defense I've played on."
Adams has been already been able to help those around him. He became close, not only in his friendship but in competition, with fellow teammate and third-year corner Darqueze Dennard. In fact, the pair recorded six interceptions in 2011. Recognizing how their symbiotic relationship can aid one another, Dennard quickly was drawn to Adams' expertise.
"I watched him play since I was in high school," Dennard said. "When I came here, I asked him to teach me some things, some techniques, and it just grew from there. He makes both of us better. Coach Dantonio says that we both overachieve. It's great having him on my side, having him to talk to and knowing he goes through the same things I do."
Adams not only has high expectations of himself this season, but the MSU defense as a whole has raised the bar for the goals they wish to achieve. Although they prevented Boise State from scoring an offensive touchdown for the first time since Washington State reigned in the Broncos in 1997, the impressive defensive performance left the Spartans thirsting for more. Adams believes the defense will be able to continue the drive to become the best in the country.
"To be the best defense, I think you have to have all 11 guys on the same page," said Adams, who was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches last season. "I think right now, we're in that process. I've been here five years and this is the best defense I've played on. We've got a lot of guys that are physical, that can fly around and that are smart. I think that once we start really clicking, the sky's the limit for this defense."
However, Adams doesn't want to leave his career at Michigan State like any other player. His expectations of himself are to be remembered for his tenacity on defense.
"I just want to be remembered as the most competitive person my defense has played with," Adams said. "I think that would be a complement to my standards as a person and also a complement to my standards as a teammate; to compete every down, with everybody, and to make the people around me better."
It was that mentality that kept Adams on the practice field two weeks ago. He knows he can always improve. But it wasn't just about him - the other player he was working against was wide receiver Bennie Fowler, an emerging player who needed the extra reps against an All-Big Ten cornerback. The results came through in the second game against Central Michigan. Adams recorded yet another interception, the ninth of his career. And Fowler recorded career highs with eight receptions for 99 yards.
It is without a doubt that Adams pushes himself to be the best he can and wants only the best for his team. With such standards in place, he will help fuel the Spartans' drive this season toward the program's ultimate goal: the Rose Bowl.
Johnny Adams is one of the main reasons why Michigan State has the top-ranked defense in the Big Ten.
This feature was originally published in the Sept. 15 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.