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Cal Football

Johnson Talks Journey, Upcoming 6th Season With Bears

May 31, 2020

Cal senior defensive end Zeandae Johnson is primed and ready for a run at a Pac-12 championship this 2020 season. And like the rest of his teammates, he’s anxious and ready to get back on the field to start his final journey as a Bear.

“I’m in Berkeley,” said Johnson. “I would say a good number of us [have stuck around], about ten to fifteen.

“I’m just doing as many workouts as I can outside the house, finding some good places to social distance and do some running in,” said Johnson. “Doing some cardio, some hiking trails.”

Johnson’s odyssey as a student athlete at Cal saw the 6-1/240 Central East (Fresno, CA) High School tight end/defensive end grow into an NFL prototype-size 6-4/280 defensive end for Cal.

It’s been an exceptionally long journey for Johnson, returning from a serious knee injury and significant lost time in the beginning of Cal career for an ususual sixth year of collegiate eligibilty. And the more distance between his injuries he accumulates, the better results on the field. Johnson earned Pac-12 Honorable mention in 2019 as well as being named Cal's Bob Tessier Award as the team's Most Improved Lineman.

The sixth year and the time away from football the last couple months has given Johnson time to reflect on his journey and how his time at Cal has impacted his life.

“I actually think back to it a lot,” said Johnson. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t know what to expect. Coming into Cal, I excited to be able to play at a school I loved, to be able to play close to home, and hopefully get on the field by the time I was a sophomore or junior.

“Just to look at how my story’s played out, I’m glad I chose Cal. I’m glad things have played out the way they have. I’m coming out of Berkeley with a double major. I’m coming out having played like I wanted to, having started games, started seasons. I’m pretty happy with my decision now looking back on it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

In his Cal career, Johnson has played in 37 games, with 14 starts and career totals of 51 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 5 1/2 sacks, one forced fumbles, eight quarterback hurries, one pass breakup and one pass defended for the Bears. Last season was his best to-date, compiling career highs of 29 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 1/2 sacks, two pass breakups, two passes defended, one forced fumble and five quarterback hurries while playing in a career-high-tying all 13 games. That final game -Cal’s Red Box Bowl victory over Illinois.

The veteran DE joins a veteran defensive unit returning 9 of 11 starters. With the experience comes confidence that his team has the knowledge, experience and ability to make big waves this season.

Johnson with Red Box Bowl Defensive MVP trophy

“We’re pretty confident in what we can do,” said Johnson. “We’re taking steps to make sure we have a great defense, making sure everybody’s dialed in. We’re bringing back so many people, and the people that left have people behind them that have played.

“I think as a defense, we’re trying to find our identity as a hard-nosed, tough team. We’re gonna bring everything we’ve got, every game. And we’ve got guys who have been playing for a long time, so we’re looking to be leaders here.”

As a 6th year senior, Johnson joins fellow 6th year defensive end Luc Bequette as the unquestioned veterans on the team. Both also share double majors in Legal studies and American Studies at Cal.

“Yeah, we get all the jokes,” said Johnson. “We get jokes about being here when they put the first stone down on campus. We’re just the old guys in the room. We are indeed old.”

Johnson will be playing alongside fellow Fresno native Ricky Correia‍ this fall and is looking forward to the opportunity.

“I’ve been keeping a really good eye on Ricky,” said Johnson. “I think he’s gonna be able to come in and show some stuff as a freshman. We’ll see how he does his first few games. We’ve got a lot of guys that are gonna come in and be able to play all three spots on that line, from nose to defensive end. These guys are gonna be able to learn from us, and possibly be better than us by the time they’re our age. We’re gonna give them all the knowledge that we have, and they already come pre-fitted with all the physical tools they need. I think we’re gonna put them in a good position to take over once we leave.”

Johnson also likes what he sees in new 6-3/280 defensive lineman Jaedon Roberts‍, who plays a lot bigger than his listed weight.

“Jaedon’s young, athletic,” said Johnson. “He’s really athletic. We got to see a bit of him in the spring and he was coming along quite well. He’s really strong; he’s very strong for his age. I didn’t expect him to be that strong. I think he’d be able to play strong side, maybe nose if he puts a few more pounds on. That’s gonna be a guy in the future. I think he’d be a more natural fit on defense, especially leaning into the fact that he just has natural power. He contributed a beautiful pocket push for a freshman in spring. That’s something that you usually don’t pick up until you’re later in your career.”

Even though the Bears know they have the circumstances linings lining up well for their upcoming season, they know the only way to meet their goals is to keep their heads down and put in the work to get there.

“We try not to get too wrapped up in the Rose Bowl and things like that,” said Johnson. “We’re looking at, basically, the next game. We’re looking at the first game of the season. We’re looking at it game by game from there.

“Obviously the goal is, of course, the Rose Bowl and beyond, but you’ve gotta take it game by game and not get caught up in the hype. Looking at it objectively, we were able to do that with the injuries we had last season on offense. Our twos can play just as well as the ones. That’s beautiful depth to go into a season with, knowing that, should that happen again, we’re set—both sides of the ball. But now we’re going to take the approach of, we need need the twos to push the ones.

“Everybody needs to be top shape, on their top tier game. So I’m glad we’ve got guys behind the ones that can play and have proven that they can play, that are gonna push all of our ones to a new level. And that’s how we reach that Pac-12 championship, or that Rose Bowl. We’ve gotta go and get to a point where the starters can’t be complacent.”

And now that his journey has taken him some seven months from the finish line, Johnson’s reflections turn towards dreams of what’s to come.

“To think about my next forty years is exciting, considering, seeing how some of teammates, some of my friends who’ve already moved on to the next stage of life, how well they’re doing in such a short period of time and seeing what this Berkeley degree really means after college,” said Johnson.

“This is like the golden stamp of approval. I think (Chancellor) Carol Christ and (AD) Jim Knowlton were talking about how this is literally a golden ticket. This opportunity, this degree… They have a price, but it’s really priceless. This thing will carry you for the next forty years of your life. The work is so worth it. Just the weight a Cal degree carries throughout different careers. This thing is monumental.”

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