By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Jaleel Johnson knows complacency is a concern after a historic 2015 season that saw the University of Iowa football team win its first 12 games and play in the Rose Bowl Game.
But satisfied, content, or pleased doesn’t describe the 2016 Hawkeyes, who completed their 12th practice of fall camp Aug. 13 with a public scrimmage at Kid’s Day at Kinnick Stadium.
“My goals are to keep getting better every day and not take any plays off,” Johnson said. “Don’t become complacent with anything. After the season we had last year, it’s easy to say we made it, but that’s not the case. Or goal is to come out and get better every day.”
Johnson’s individual accomplishments last season paralleled the team’s triumphs. The Hawkeyes finished 12-2, won the Big Ten Conference West Division, and secured all four traveling trophies with wins over Iowa State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Johnson was named honorable-mention All-Big Ten at defensive tackle after recording 44 stops with six quarterback hurries, 5 ½ tackles for loss, and four sacks.
“The thing that motivates me is seeing myself getting better and seeing the team get better,” Johnson said. “That’s all the motivation I need.”
With 14 consecutive starts, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Johnson shares veteran status on the defensive line with junior tackle Nathan Bazata, who also has started 14 consecutive times.
Johnson’s career began by playing in seven of 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013. His lone tackle was an assist during a 59-3 win over Western Michigan. The following season he played in all 13 games, making 11 tackles with a sack.
As his playing time increased, Johnson also began to understand the correlation between accountability and leadership. It is something he emphasizes to this day as a member of the team’s Leadership Group.
“One of the biggest things is holding myself accountable, that’s all we can really do,” Johnson said. “If you hold yourself accountable, that puts you in that leadership role. That goes for everybody, not just me. That is everything from working hard in practice to going to class. Every little thing adds up.”
This is the fifth fall camp for Johnson and even though he is a returning starter, his mindset remains the same as when he was a rookie in 2012.
“It’s competitive, it doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran or a first-year guy coming in, it’s going to be competitive no matter what,” Johnson said. “You’re going to go against guys who are equal or stronger than you.”
Since 2011, the Hawkeyes have had three defensive tackles drafted into the NFL: Karl Klug (Tennessee Titans in 2011), Mike Daniels (Green Bay Packers in 2012), and Carl Davis (Baltimore Ravens in 2015).
“It is motivation,” Johnson said of a possible professional career. “But I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on helping this team win and have a better season.”
The Hawkeyes are scheduled for two practices Monday. Their season opener is Sept. 3 against Miami (Ohio) inside Kinnick Stadium.
For Johnson it will be a successful senior season if the Hawkeyes play as a cohesive unit. Then winning will take care of itself.
“It’s never an individual out here,” Johnson said. “We all play together and come together as one.”