He's played football on national television and on the field in front of several thousand fans. That's nothing out of the ordinary for Jerome Johnson.

But there's one stage in Johnson's Indiana University experience that has filled him with nerves — the one inside the IU Auditorium.

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During April's Spirit of Indiana Showcase, an annual award show for IU athletes, Johnson grabbed a microphone and surprised his Indiana teammates and the rest of IU's community of athletes by singing John Legend's song "This Time."

Not only did Johnson sing it, he sang it quite well.

"Everybody was shocked," Johnson said, "but all of them gave me good feedback."

This fall, in the realm of Big Ten football, Johnson would like to keep the surprises coming.

The redshirt sophomore defensive tackle earned his way into IU's defensive line rotation last season, and is training to be an even bigger contributor during the upcoming campaign.

Johnson's position coach, Mark Hagen, believes he can get there.

"I think he's got a chance to be a special player," Hagen said. "I really do. He's come a long way."

Johnson, who was ranked as one of the top 100 defensive tackles in the 2016 recruiting class, committed to Indiana on the eve of National Signing Day in February 2016.

After a redshirt season that fall, Johnson found a niche on Indiana's defensive line from the very beginning last year. The 6-3, 293-pound Mississippi native played in all 12 games, finishing with 18 tackles, including 10 solo stops, with one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss.

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"I was second-string and I got a lot of playing time," Johnson said. "I got to learn the game more and see how it is and get used to it (at the college level)."

The next step is getting Johnson to play harder for longer stretches. When he does, Hagen believes Johnson can be a difference-maker up front.

Johnson has shown he can be an explosive player, particularly at his size. IU just wants to see more of that explosive play — and in larger doses.

"When Jerome gets tired and drained out there, he's got to continue to work through that grind. I think that's the next step for him," Hagen said. "I think sometimes he leans on the fact that Coach Hagen's gonna get me a blow here and there. Sometimes, the situation may not dictate that.

"You can't just assume that after four snaps I'm coming off the field. I try to get them to think that way so they give me everything they've got for four snaps, but he's got to take that next step. He's a tough guy, but he's got to continue to build on that."

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Building on last season could go a long way for Johnson, who was recognized with Big Ten All-Freshman honorable mention recognition for his work in 2017.

With Hagen's coaching, Johnson is in tune with what's expected of him.

"I just need to get stronger, faster and work on my footwork," Johnson said. "And work on getting more reps to end the games."

That could lead to more showstopping performances on the football field. Johnson is already used to them elsewhere.

"He's a talented guy," Hagen said. 

This article is written by Mike Miller from Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.