References to the Wrecking Crew aren’t uncommon in any year, but they seem to be only increasing in 2020 thanks to several dominant performances from Texas A&M’s defense, which ranks No. 1 in the SEC in total defense.
Senior linebacker Buddy Johnson is leading the charge in that dominance, with a team-high of 74 tackles.
In the Nov. 28 game against LSU, A&M’s defense controlled the game as the offense struggled to find any momentum, and Johnson effectively put the game out of reach of the Tigers with a pick-six late in the third quarter. Johnson earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his interception.
“Being able to make a play for your team like that is huge,” Johnson said. “It’s huge momentum for not only the defense, but the team. I was fired up and ready to get into the end zone as soon as I caught the ball. I knew where I was going. There was no other answer than a touchdown for me.”
Sophomore defensive end DeMarvin Leal said it was rewarding to see his teammate succeed.
“That was an exciting moment, just to see him break a few tackles and fight his way in there,” Leal said. “It was amazing. I know that moment meant a lot to him, just to come back and be successful during this entire game. He had a great game. I know he’s very excited.”
The 20-7 win over the reigning national champions isn’t the first time Johnson has made it into the end zone.
On Oct. 19, 2019, a sack forced Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee to fumble, which Johnson picked up and returned 64 yards to give A&M a 17-14 lead.
Johnson was also key in A&M’s 41-38 win over Florida on Oct. 10. On the Gators’ last drive of the game, he forced a fumble at midfield, allowing the Aggies to score a field goal and earn their first win over a top-5 opponent under coach Jimbo Fisher.
Though the defense hadn’t had its best performance in the game as Florida scored on six of its eight drives, Johnson’s fumble recovery sealed the win for A&M.
“It was huge, not only for me but for this defense and this team,” Johnson said after the Florida game. “I knew somebody had to step up and make a play. I don’t feel like I played my best, but I couldn’t let that hold me down. I knew I had to continue to lead these guys and continue to make plays. It just happened, I just did my assignment and executed where I had to execute.”
Leal said Johnson’s ability to put his mistakes behind him allowed him to be successful in a key moment.
“I texted Buddy after the game and told him how proud I was for him,” Leal said on Oct. 12. “He could have gotten real low during that game after those few mistakes but he rose to the occasion, kept his head and made his play, made the biggest play of the game.”
Despite the individual success he has had this season, Johnson always makes sure to give credit to his teammates for his accomplishments.
“It just shows how together we are,” Johnson said. “My accomplishments are this team’s accomplishments. It just goes back to practice, the way we prepare. Coach Fisher always preaches about preparing the right way and at practice, we’re fired up and ready to go. We just have a sense of urgency, more guys are buying in and you can tell it’s paying off.”
In what has been a rollercoaster year as the COVID-19 pandemic canceled spring football and jeopardized the 2020 season, Johnson has remained a constant for the Aggies, not only in his production on the field, but also his leadership off the gridiron.
“His off-the-field leadership and keeping guys contained and reminding them to stay quarantined or out of the melee of people and to stay disciplined, he did an outstanding job during our offseason and our kids have tremendous respect for him,” Fisher said. “The things that are happening on the field are no surprise because he does them off the field.”
Fisher said Johnson’s success comes out of his dedication to his craft, as well as to the team.
“I expect a lot out of Buddy because he demands a lot out of himself,” Fisher said. “He had a great offseason. Learning to play middle linebacker last year, going from outside to inside is a big change. Being able to contribute, to process the information, to fit gaps, he’s done a great job. He has a great influence on the players. He comes to work every day, he’s got a great attitude, he’s got great leadership and can see the big picture of what’s going on.”
As the season approached and players were deciding whether to play or opt out, Johnson sent a tweet on Sept. 13 regarding his intentions.
“1,000 percent committed,” Johnson tweeted .
Johnson said he knew he needed to send that message as a leader of the team.
“I just wanted everyone to know that I was 1,000 percent committed and everything that I did was going to be toward this program,” Johnson said. “That’s what I was focused on — being a leader for this team and buying into what Coach Fisher had to say and just trusting the process. I trusted the process and believed in our coaches and our coaching staff and that’s why I’m able to be successful. I take care of my business on and off the field.
“I just wanted everyone to know that no matter what happened, I was going to be an Aggie.”