Najja Johnson, a Marietta High graduate, had to go far from his home state to play college football. He’ll be back on Saturday as a starting cornerback for Buffalo, which opens the season against Georgia in Sanford Stadium.
“It’s a dream come true,” Johnson said by phone from Buffalo. “Honestly, I’ve lived my whole life waiting to play between the hedges.
“I grew up a Georgia fan, hoping to be a Bulldog. So it’ll be quite the experience coming down and playing in Athens, although in a different uniform.”
Johnson, a junior, started all 12 Buffalo games last season and led the Mid-American Conference in pass breakups.
At Marietta, he played linebacker and drew little attention from college recruiters. The staff of former Buffalo coach Turner Gill noticed him on film while recruiting other Marietta players.
“They offered me an opportunity to walk on, and I accepted,” said Johnson, who enrolled at Buffalo in 2009 and was put on scholarship last year.
Johnson was born in Buffalo, but his family moved to Georgia when he was a few months old. Saturday will be his first time inside Sanford Stadium. One benefit of the game, he said, is that his father, an Atlanta Police detective who travels to all of the Buffalo games, will have a shorter trip to make.
“A lot of the kids I went to high school with go to the University of Georgia,” Johnson said. “It’ll be fun to play in front of them again.”
Johnson is one of five players from Georgia on the Buffalo roster. The others are sophomore Cordero Dixon, a North Gwinnett graduate who is a first-year starter at wide receiver; sophomore Devon Hughes, a backup receiver from Sandy Creek High; redshirt freshman Tony Daniel, a third-string quarterback from South Paulding High; and sophomore Kendall Roberson, a reserve linebacker from Avondale High.
“I always tell my teammates that Georgia is one of the top football states in the country,” said Johnson, a history major who aspires to teach high school social studies and coach football. “It speaks volumes when you look at rosters all over the country and normally you see guys from Georgia.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt agreed: “Everybody is trying to find some Georgia boys to help them win, so it’s not a shock to see them all the way in Buffalo.”
Tickets available Saturday
Approximately 300 tickets remain available for the Georgia-Buffalo game and will be on sale at Sanford Stadium’s east end ticket windows beginning at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, according to Tim Cearley, UGA assistant athletic director for ticket operations. Cost is $45 per ticket.
If any tickets go unsold, the game would be Georgia’s first home opener since 1998 to fail to sell out.
A noticeable change at Sanford Stadium this season is a renovated Gate 10, which is under the Sanford Drive bridge on the southwest end of the stadium and at the end of the pregame “Dawg Walk.” The $375,000 project added a large arched entry portal and piers, wider pathways and new graphics on the tunnel walls.
‘Game Ball Relay’
An Olympic torch-style relay will carry a football from Atlanta to Athens to mark the start of the season.
Members of Georgia’s 1980 national championship team are scheduled to launch the “Game Ball Relay” at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, the event’s beneficiary, at 10 a.m. Friday. The relay will wind through downtown Atlanta before UGA Army ROTC cadets run the football overnight to Athens. Donations of $100 or more earn a spot in Saturday’s final leg of the relay, a march from Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall to Sanford Stadium.
More information: www.georgiadogs.com/gameballrelay.
UGA sophomore flanker Chris Conley was named to a two-year term as the SEC’s representative on the NCAA Division I student-athlete advisory committee. The committee includes one student-athlete from each of 31 conferences.
MORE GEORGIA FOOTBALL