Mustafa Johnson grateful for opportunity to return to CU Buffs – The Denver Post

When Mustafa Johnson’s gamble to enter his name in the NFL draft pool in January didn’t pan out, he wasn’t sure what to do next.

Then, this summer, he got a call from Colorado defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.

“They saw I was struggling, and they were like, ‘We need to help our fellow Buff,’” Johnson said. “Coach reached out to me and was like, ‘Would you be interested in coming back?’”

After a lengthy waiver process and biding his time to become eligible again, Johnson is back. Granted an NCAA waiver late last month, the 6-foot-2, 290-pound senior defensive lineman is set to make his season debut with the Buffs (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12) on Saturday against Southern California (2-2, 1-2) at Folsom Field.

“It’s been really good and exciting,” he said of getting back to CU. “It was weird staying out, not doing actual football, contact, stuff like that. So, getting back into that groove, it felt really good, really nice to be in the pads, so I’m excited.”

Johnson was named second-team All-Pac-12 by coaches and media in 2020. He recorded 21 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss during the five-game regular season for the Buffs while adding three tackles and a sack against Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

“He gives us a veteran presence in the defensive front,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “He’s excited to play. Obviously, he feels like it was a blessing on his part to get another opportunity to play. I think he’ll make the most of it. But he’ll be a good veteran piece for us defensively that I think will really help us solidify what we need to do.”

Johnson chose in January to skip his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. He signed with an agent, but went undrafted and was unable to land a free agent contract with an NFL team. He did receive a tryout with the New York Jets but was not signed.

“I’m very surprised that I didn’t even get the free agent opportunity,” he said. “After I went down to the Jets and did the workout and I was competing – like, I was competing with all of those guys, whether with their first rounders or whoever was out there, I was competing right there with them. So it kind of gave me that confidence where I was like, ‘Oh, I can play with them.’ … I guess I don’t really know why it didn’t work out. Very shocked. My agent was shocked, too, and that’s kind of just how things rolled.”

Because he never signed a contract with a team, CU was able to put in a waiver with the NCAA to get him back. Johnson had to write some statements for the NCAA during the process, which took a couple of months. He also had to serve a suspension because he did sign with an agent.

Had the waiver not come through, Johnson said he likely would have gone to the Canadian Football League, as he was drawing interest from teams there, but he’s glad to be back in Boulder.

“This is my team, this is my family and they wanted to work with me; they reached out,” he said.

In 2018, Johnson was first-team All-Pac-12 when, in his first year as a Buff, he started all 12 games and compiled 73 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hurries. His 73 tackles that season are the most by a CU defensive lineman since 1997, while his 18 TFLs are the most by any CU player since 1993.

A transfer from Modesto (Calif.) Junior College, Johnson has been a starter in all 27 games he has played at CU. He is tied for 14th in program history in career sacks (15) and tied for 20th in career tackles for loss (29).

Johnson, who has been practicing with the Buffs for a couple of weeks, said his return has been welcomed by his teammates, and he’s eager to try to help snap a current three-game losing streak.

“I hope I can be an impact player again and do something that will help this team win in whatever facet of the game, whether it just be my energy of lifting up the team, being a leader again, doing those things, or whether it’s my play on the field, as well,” he said. “Most definitely, this is a second chance opportunity that many people do not get, so I need to make the best of it. It’s most definitely a second chance opportunity to create better film (for NFL scouts), perfect techniques, change things that I didn’t do good in the last round this time around.”

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