As the Ohio State Buckeyes prepare to return to State College, Pa,. for the first time since 2012, one particular OSU coach is returning to a place he called home for nearly two decades.
OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson is set to return to Beaver Stadium for the first time since leaving Penn State for a job with the Buckeyes in January.
After nearly 20 years as a Nittany Lion assistant, Johnson said returning to Beaver Stadium will be an unusual experience.
“It will be different. First time. You spend 18 years at one place for a long time, then you walk back in there, different sideline, place you’ve been for 18 years,” Johnson said Monday. “But I’m looking forward to going back. I’m looking forward to going back with Ohio State University. I’m looking forward to going back and (will) be excited to play in the stadium.”
Johnson, who replaced Mike Vrabel when Vrabel left for a job with the Houston Texans, earned high praise from OSU coach Urban Meyer before he even coached a game at OSU.
“We replaced Mike with a top-shelf coach, a guy that has great respect, very good recruiter, a very good coach. The players love him already,” Meyer said during Big Ten media days in July.
Sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa said in March — not long after Johnson was hired — that Johnson had his similarities and differences when compared to Vrabel.
“It is just a different attitude,” Bosa said “Their technique is all similar. He is more positive, I daresay.”
Meyer seems to have the same outlook on Johnson’s style of coaching.
“I think they’re very similar guys. High-end character people, family-oriented guys that you want leading your players,” Meyer said Monday. “I’d say they’re more similar than different. Mike might let some colorful, I don’t want to use ‘language,’ phrases or whatever, but other than that they’re very similar guys.”
Johnson said he tries to make an effort to not only coach his players on the field, but off the field as well.
“There’s different ways to deliver a message to a player. Mine might be a little different. I am a developer. I like to be closer to a player, develop a relationship,” Johnson said. “That’s my march, try to make sure the players understand I trust them, believe in them, but I am also going to invest in them.”
Johnson will now have to lead his players into a stadium he has never seen from the visitor’s sideline, but added that he knows what to expect from an atmosphere standpoint.
“It will be loud. We count on it being loud. Our players (at Penn State), they went to another notch when they got to play in front of 108,000, ‘white out,’ those kind of things,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a great environment. There’s 108,000 here. So that’s fun to play in front of also. I think our players will be jacked to go back in there again and play at Penn State.”
The last time the Buckeyes traveled to Beaver Stadium — in 2012 — Johnson was in blue and white as OSU defeated the Nittany Lions, 35-23.
Despite calling Penn State home for 18 years, Johnson said he has no plans to visit his old stomping grounds other than the stadium.
“I won’t stop by. I’m going to be in the hotel planning for the game. I won’t see anything, to be honest with you,” Johnson said.
While most of his surroundings will be familiar, there is one thing that will be new for Johnson: the visitors’ locker room.
“I have heard about it,” Johnson said with a smile. “It’s very small.”
Johnson will be introduced to new surroundings before too long as the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the Nittany Lions on Saturday in State College, Pa. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.