GameDay Xtra: Helms, Johnson Share Common Bond

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GameDay Xtra: Helms, Johnson Share Common Bond

by Elizabeth Stuart
LSU Sports Information

Aside from physical differences, Brett Helms and Herman Johnson have a lot in common. Forget that both are seniors, played on the 2007 National Championship team and their names appear on almost every preseason award watch list. The bond between the two runs even deeper. For the past five years, Helms and Johnson have grown individually, but also together, to create a solid, formidable core for the offensive line.

Helms, at 6-2, 283 pounds, fits naturally in his position at center, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Early in the 2006 season, LSU coach Les Miles called for the Stuttgart, Ark. native to leave the guard position and take on a role at center. Looking at his performance now, Helms appears to play the position with a lifetime of experience. One would never guess that his experience at center spans only a few short years. 

“I had never played center and had played guard my entire life,” Helms explained.

But the change didn’t come easy.

“I fumbled a few snaps at first, but it’s been the best thing to happen to me since I’ve been at LSU,” Helms said.

After taking the reins as the team captain of the offensive line, the rest has been history.

Over 1,600 snaps later, the talented center has grown into an essential part of the Tiger line.

“You don’t hear too much about him, but Brett knows the offense like the back of his hand,” said Johnson, who plays next to Helms at left guard. “He makes calls and makes checks that quarterbacks don’t see, that some of us don’t see. He sees them. He’s like our coach in the games when we are on the line.”

But it’s not about the glory for the modest Helms.

“I go out to take the pressure off some of the younger guys, like taking the pressure off the quarterbacks,” he explained. “It’s just something I love doing. Let them make the plays. Let us think.”

For Helms it’s a team mentality, even when it comes to his own personal honors and accolades as expectations run high for his senior season.

“It’s nice, but I try not to pay too much attention to it,” he said. “We have team goals. You go out to accomplish the team goals and the individual goals will come.” 

That mentality is something that unites Helms with Johnson.

“I try to just stay focused on the season,” Johnson explained. “I know a lot of people let that stuff get to them and it messes up their technique work. I know it’s there, but I just want to finish this season the best that I can.”

The 6-7, 386-pound Johnson is inch-for-inch and pound-for- pound the largest player to ever wear a Tiger jersey. In fact, he was the biggest baby born in the state of Louisiana, weighing in at an astonishing 15 lbs. and 14 oz. The story goes that when the doctor delivered Herman, the doctor told his mother he would one day be a Tiger. Herman Johnson actually is just what the doctor ordered for LSU.

Johnson is an intimidating force to opponents week in and week out as he glares from across the line of scrimmage. However, due to his size growing up, he wasn’t always allowed to play football, as most of his middle school peers stood only at his waist.

In sixth grade, Johnson finally got his chance.

“When I first began playing, I didn’t have a clue,” he recalled. “As I got older, I began to develop my technique and build a love for football as well as hitting people.” 

Despite his size and athleticism, the road to LSU was not paved with gold for the senior lineman. When he was a teenager, life threw a hurdle his way ? one that was hard, even for a man of Johnson’s size to clear. During his sophomore year of high school, Johnson’s father passed away due to a heart attack.

“I came to a point in my life I felt that I didn’t want to play anymore,” Johnson remembered. “He always pushed me to play and when he passed, that push wasn’t there.”

His mother’s support gave him the lift he needed to continue to pursue his dream. Three years later, Johnson found himself on scholarship at LSU.

Not long after he arrived at LSU, Johnson had another hurdle thrown his way. This time the hurdle was from a much, much smaller source.

A spider bite turned into an infection that forced the gentle giant to sit out most of his freshman season. When he returned, he returned with a vengeance.

In 2005, he did not allow even one sack. His skills continued to develop with each passing season. During his junior campaign, Johnson earned first-team All-SEC honors from both the AP and the league coaches as he paved the way for an LSU rushing attack rated second in the SEC. 

Although he is a formidable foe on the gridiron, Johnson, a self-described “jokester,” loves entertaining his teammates and playing practical jokes, something he also credits to his father.

“My father loved to play jokes and keep people laughing,” Johnson said.

His repertoire includes tying cans on a string to swing over his balcony and knock on former teammate Joseph Addai’s door, and rigging mattresses so that only the box spring was left for teammate Quinn Johnson.  His favorite, though, occurred after the team had just finished practicing for the 2005 Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Teammate Garret Wibel didn’t wear his knee braces to practice.

“He refused to wear the braces so some of us headed off to the training room and grabbed as much tape as we could,” Johnson said.

They wrapped Wibel head to toe in tape while he was still in full pads and left him in the locker room

“We came back a little later to let him out. We had to wait on him to get back to the hotel, but it was worth it,” Johnson recalled, booming with laughter. 

Despite their different backgrounds, the selfless mentality of Brett Helms and Herman Johnson — coupled with a passion for the offensive line — merges them on the same path.

“It’s like we are brothers up front,” Johnson said. “You have to know what the person next to you is doing. You make calls and help them out. We are just like a family up front.”

And even the strongest of defensive lines can’t break those bonds.