Sept. 18, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It was a familiar feeling he’d had before.
After two years waiting and no snaps played in the Marshall football program, Sebastian “Swede” Johansson finally heard the words he longed to hear.
In the last days of August, leading up to the Thundering Herd’s 2013 football opener against Miami (Ohio), Marshall offensive line coach Alex Mirabal told Johansson he’d earned the start at left guard.
“It was just great,” the 6-foot-4, 282-pound redshirt sophomore said earlier this week. “I called my mom and dad (at his home in Karlstad, Sweden) and we talked for about 20 minutes. They’ve been trying to watch some of our games, but they’re broadcasting so late with the time difference, middle of night there …”
And as the kickoff got closer, Johansson felt like he did almost exactly four years ago, on the night he was to make his American football debut for the Raceland (Ky.) High School Rams.
“I was sick to my stomach, but it was a good sick, a good feeling at the same time,” Johansson said, smiling. “I was just so nervous. I wanted to get out there. I told myself I’d been waiting for this for a long time.
“There was a time when I wondered if I’d ever do it, so it was just go out there and get it done.
“It compared to Raceland, the same kind of feeling, but maybe not as sick as I was this time. But I still had the butterflies going. I’ll never forget that first game for Marshall, never forget the first time at Raceland, either.”
It was in that 2009 Kentucky high school season when then-Herd assistant coach (and MU Hall of Fame lineman) Phil Ratliff discovered Johansson, during the Rams’ 12-1 season that ended in the Class 1A quarterfinals.
Johansson went home to Sweden for his senior year and graduation in 2010-11, but already had decided he’d play college football at Marshall.
His patience in the program as he learned the nuances of offensive line technique has paid off. He’s made all three starts this season, and has played 153 snaps. He’s made 99 percent of his assignments and graded out at 84 percent – the best among Mirabal’s starters up front.
“I just feel comfortable out there now, finally,” said Johansson, who also ranked in the top five herd lifters in summer strength and conditioning. “It’s great to be out there with these other guys.
“I watch the others (three seniors and fourth-year junior center Chris Jasperse) and I’m the new guy. We grind every day, and it’s kind of in my backbone right now that I trust these guys tremendously.
“Everybody out there has one another’s backs, and we’re having a heck of a time.”
Johansson had to be strong to win the job. Josh Lovell -- a returning starter from 2012 -- and Johansson vied for the left guard job through camp. Now, true freshman Michael Selby has emerged, seeking his first left guard action in relief of Johansson in last Saturday’s loss at Ohio.
Johansson played 65 snaps, Selby 17. Mirabal used eight linemen, with Clint Van Horn (32 snaps) backing up Alex Schooler (50) at right guard and Jordan Jeffries getting nine snaps in relief of Gage Niemeyer (73) at left tackle.
Jasperse and right tackle Garrett Scott played all 82 snaps against the Bobcats.
That’s an eight-man group that Mirabal has ready to go against Virginia Tech (2-1) at noon Saturday at Lane Stadium. It is Marshall’s best offensive line group in years, and it is the bunch that will determine whether the Herd’s big-bumbers offense will be able to move consistently against the Hokies’ No. 2-ranked defense.
And Johansson might be the starter now, but that doesn’t mean he will be in a week or two.
“With Josh (Lovell), it was touch-and-go,” Johansson said of getting the starting job. “Every day in camp … Really, every day is a competition, just like every game is competition. That’s how I look at it. That’s how I have to look at it.
“You just have to bring your ‘A’ game, whether it’s practice or a game. Selby is doing a great job now. We’re all helping one another out, and the way Coach uses us, it keeps us all fresh a bit.
“I’ve got an advantage. I’ve got guys on my left and right that have been here and they know so much football and have played so much, and it’s great. I’m getting there, slow and steady in my mind, but it gets easier when you have a call and one of them alerts you, so you have that bell ringing in the back of your head instead of no knowledge about it.”
Johansson said Mirabal kept it simple when he informed the guard from Sweden that he’s start.
“He just told me to go out there and go hard … do what you’ve been doing. That’s pretty much it.”
Johansson said on that motivational part of the game, he didn’t need coaching. Nothing there was foreign.
“I’m worried every day I go to practice,” he said when asked if he worries about losing a job he won. “I want to bring my ‘A’ game, go hard every rep; there’s never a day off. I’m never going there.
“I would personally never want anyone to take this part away from me. I want to be out there on game day, because of all the hard work I’ve put into it.
“Power-wise and speed-wise, I’m fine. The toughest thing – I think I’ve picked up speed pretty good by now – is mostly movement sometimes, but I’m getting better and better at it … moving toward linebackers a little bit. I was struggling in spring with it some, but I started picking it up and I feel more sure and secure in it now. So, it’s just about working every day.”
He’s also gotten some European company that makes him smile. Kickoff man Amoreto Curraj is an Albanian native who moved to Tampa, Fla., when he was 6. More recently, Kaare Vedvik arrived from Norway – he was a high school kicker in Kansas last season – to give the Herd another Scandanavian.
“It’s got to be,” Johansson said, laughing, when asked if Marshall football was part of the United Nations. “Nah, it’s great to have, especially the Norwegian kid, Kaare (pronounced Corey). It’s great to talk to somebody in my native tongue a little bit. His language and mine are pretty much the same.
“He speaks one of the ones in Norwegian that is close to what I speak. And since where I’m from in Sweden is so close to the Norwegian border, I speak semi-Norwegian on a lot of words. So, it’s such a blast.”
Yeah, it’s a “Swede” deal.