Marshall football: Move to tackle a good fit for Herd’s Johanson

T.J. Lawhon/For the Daily Mail
Marshall running back Steward Butler (20) tries to get away from an East Carolina defender while offensive lineman Sebastian Johansson (71) follows last November during the Thundering Herd’s win against the Pirates in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Sebastian Johansson already has established himself as a quick learner. In one season — and four years after playing his one season of football on American soil — the Karlstad, Sweden native vaulted from little-used Marshall backup offensive lineman to starting left guard.

If he could evolve that fast, coaches figured he’d make just as quick of a transition from left guard to left tackle. Early opinions of the Thundering Herd’s staff show he’s doing just fine.

“It looks like he has a home out there,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.

At 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, the player nicknamed “Swede” looks the part. He just needed time to incubate after returning from Sweden to join the Herd roster in 2011. He had seven years of American-style football experience, but had played one season of high school football in America, for a 12-1 Raceland (Ky.) High team as a junior.

Yet once he grabbed hold of the starting left guard job entering 2013, he never let go, starting all 14 games and helping the Herd maintain its offensive firepower. With Garrett Scott graduating, Marshall needed to fill the hole at left tackle and felt Johansson could fit the bill.

“He moved a yard-and-a-half over,” offensive line coach Alex Mirabal said, “and he’s thousands of miles from where he lives. That’s an easy adjustment. It’s small in the world he’s lived in.”

Johansson said that, while football is football, regardless of his spot on the line, there are differences he still has to get used to. He’s refining his technique and keeping his eyes up to scan the field for pass rushers, rather than focusing on bulldozing defenders amid the chaos of the interior line.

The last time Johansson played tackle was in Sweden, so in the states, it had been all guard, all the time. He feels he’s a quick learner and has made good progress in his new role, but still has a way to go to get it right. He considers himself his own worst critic, which he hopes the coaches appreciate, because it shows his desire to improve.

“I think I’m so hard on myself,” he said. “I hate if I’m messing up somehow, and I put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. That’s what they see when I’m working out here. You can see when I get upset, so I just try to work and work harder and make sure I don’t do the same mistakes again.”

Mirabal has noticed that attention to detail. He saw it last year when Johansson barreled his way into the starting lineup. It’s why he and the other coaches felt his move from guard to tackle would work.

“Swede is better than any junior college kid we could have signed,” Mirabal said. “He’s very athletic, tough, determined. So we felt that he could do it. Obviously, until the live bullets come on, you’re not really sure. He’s not a stop-gap. He’s going to be the guy, barring any injury.

“He’s got a tremendous amount of athleticism,” he added, “tremendous pride as a human being, tremendous determination.”

Johansson’s success so far helps Marshall in several ways. With Mirabal ranking the redshirt junior above any junior college prospect, it kept Mirabal from signing a juco tackle to replace Scott. Instead, he could bring in high school and prep school linemen that he could develop.

That amount of respect isn’t lost on Johansson, and he said he’ll spend the rest of 2014 showing the coaches they made the right decision.

“I’m glad I have their trust,” he said. “Hopefully, I don’t lose it.”

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at or 304-348-1712. His blog is at Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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