Very shortly after Penn State’s loss to Georgia Saturday afternoon, quarterback Christian Hackenberg confirmed to the assembled media that he would be leaving Happy Valley early for the NFL. A short time later, a teammate on the defensive side of the field followed him out the door.
Austin Johnson confirmed in a press release sent out by the school that he too will be leaving the Nittany Lions early in order to make himself available for the April draft. In a statement, the defensive tackle thanked numerous people, even his late legendary head coach.
“After much thought and consideration with my family, I have decided that the best decision for me is to forgo my senior season at Penn State,” Johnson’s statement began. “I want to thank Nittany Nation for your support over the last three years. My love for Nittany Nation will be with me always.
“I want to thank all of the coaches who have helped me throughout my college career. I would like to thank Coach [Joe] Paterno and Coach [Larry] Johnson for opening the door for me to attend Penn State and thank you to Coach [Bill] O’Brien for being the rock of the program in a time of need. I would also like to thank Coach [James] Franklin and Coach [Sean] Spencer for supporting me to excel in my position.
“Last but not least, my teammates. Thank you for always being there for me. I will carry my pride as a Nittany Lion with me always.”
Johnson was third on the Nittany Lions and first among FBS defensive tackles with 78 tackles on the season. His 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks were second on the team to All-American Carl Nassib‘s 19.5 and 15.5.
The last two seasons, Johnson started all 26 games.
“Austin has been an impact player on this team and leader for us on defense,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “We appreciate all of his contributions to the program. He has also excelled off the field, earning his degree in just three and a half years. We’re excited to see him continue his career in the NFL and wish him nothing but success.”