The score did not go the way he was hoping, with the West Mifflin Titans 52-0 losers at the hands of rival Thomas Jefferson on Friday night.
But for Titans defensive end and Pitt commit Nahki Johnson, it was a blessing just to step onto the field. Johnson spent his 2019 offseason worried about whether he would be eligible after a transfer to West Mifflin from Steel Valley and his 2020 offseason wondering along with the rest of the world if the football season would even be played.
“It really does mean a lot,” Johnson said. “I’m just happy to be out here and playing my senior season. [The loss is a] minor setback for a major comeback. This isn’t the time for us to put our heads down. We’ve just got to work harder in practice.”
The game nearly didn’t happen at all, and it didn’t happen when it was supposed to. After the WPIAL go the go-ahead from the PIAA to play the 2020 season late in August, a scrambled schedule put usual final-week opponents Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin on the field for the opener.
You won’t hear Johnson complaining, especially after it looked for parts of the summer that the season might not happen at all.
“All the talk about if we were even going to have a season, they still talk about whether we’re going to make it to the playoffs,” Johnson said. “Right now, I’m just happy to be on the football field.”
In his first game back in action, Johnson admitted that he started a little bit slow, and that was exacerbated by a Thomas Jefferson offense that seemed perfectly content to run every play to the left side of its offense — away from Johnson.
As the game wore on, Johnson got into a better groove, forcing a fumble and recording a sack in the second half to go with a first-half quarterback pressure.
“I’m definitely playing at a different size from last year,” he said. “As soon I got the feel for how I’m going to play and my wind an everything, I feel like I played better.”
Johnson bulking up is part of him trying to get ready for the 2021 season, when he’ll still be wearing royal blue and gold, just a few miles down the Monongahela River with the Panthers. He said Pitt defensive line coach Charlie Partridge sees him as a pure edge rusher at the next level, and he’s trying to get his body and his game ready for the challenge.
“We’ve been going over a lot of my film,” Johnson said. “Every time we have an opponent, I let him know what’s up. He tells me what he wants to see from me. He really wants to see me as a true, outside pass rusher, a nine technique, outside the tackle, doing my pass-rush thing, because that’s where they want me to play up at Pitt.”
Johnson and the Titans will move on for another stern test in Week 2, as they visit Belle Vernon.