HOUSTON (AP) — Lonnie Johnson Jr. nearly quit playing football.
The Indiana native was bouncing around the junior college ranks and having trouble making the jump up to the next level.
“I almost gave it up at one point in junior college because I kept getting knocked down every step I tried to take,” Johnson said. “Just stuck with it, ended up qualifying through school and got to Kentucky and ended up doing the right thing.”
The work paid off after two years at Kentucky: Johnson was taken by the Houston Texans in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night at No 54 overall.
“It just shows that I work hard,” Johnson said. “Everything that it took to get here, everything I’ve been through, I’m lost for words right now.”
Johnson started 18 games for the Wildcats after a series of twists and turns. Originally, he committed to Ohio State but did not qualify academically. In 2014, Johnson played at San Bernardino Valley Community College before spending the next two years at Garden City Community College. His final two seasons were spent at Kentucky, where he had 64 tackles with 12 pass breakups.
This is the third straight season the Texans have addressed the cornerback position in the draft.
Johnson will try and fill the voids left in the secondary with the exits of Tyrann Mathieu, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Kareem Jackson, who signed with the Denver Broncos, in the offseason.
The Texans also used two of their top three picks to shore up their porous offensive line and get Deshaun Watson some protection: Northern Illinois’ Max Scharping (No. 55 overall) and first-rounder Tytus Howard of Alabama State will likely be asked to help protect the oft-banged up quarterback.
“I know he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league,” Scharping said. “He’s a great person to be able to protect for. He’s athletic, he can move throughout the pocket and he’s got a great arm. I can’t wait to be one of the guys protecting him.”
Watson was sacked an NFL-leading 62 times as Houston won the AFC South last season.
Howard was a quarterback in high school before growing into his 6-foot-5, 322-pound frame while Scharping is a 6-foot-6, 327-pound tackle who started in 53 consecutive games for the Huskies.
Scharping, who is a native of Green Bay, will get to head to his hometown next season when the Texans and Packers participate in a joint practice prior to their preseason opener. Scharping is also now teammates with fellow Wisconsin native J.J. Watt, who he watched growing up when he played at Wisconsin.
“It’s going to be amazing being on the same team,” Scharping said. “You’re going against the best defensive line in the country, really. You’ve got him; you’ve got Clowney. So, blocking those guys in practice every day, you’re going to be going up against the best.”
The Texans had three picks in the first two rounds. They come a year after they didn’t have any picks in the first or second rounds because they shipped their top two picks to get rid of Brock Osweiler and trade up to get Watson in 2017.