LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) — Eli Johnson’s journey to New Mexico State is one of great intrigue.
Johnson, who played four seasons at Ole Miss and started 12 games for the Rebels at center in 2019, sat out the 2020 season after deciding he didn’t want to play in Oxford anymore. He was fully prepared for life after football, that is until the NCAA offered up an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson decided to enter the transfer portal and despite other Group of 5 offers closer to home, he chose to play his final year of college football for the Aggies in Las Cruces.
“[New Mexico State] was the best option with regards to getting a new life experience,” said Johnson. “I didn’t want to transfer two or three hours from home, be in the same area, doing the same thing and the same culture. Essentially, the thing that attracted me here was that is an opportunity to get out of the Southeast, experience something new and broaden my horizons.”
The Mississippi native will immediately step in as the Aggies’ center in 2021 and provides instant leadership at the position for head coach Doug Martin.
“I think even more than the physical part of things with Eli [Johnson] is the maturity and the experience of playing in the SEC. He started in the SEC and he brings a level of confidence to our other players.,” said Martin. “They just feel comfortable with him. He’s kind of like having a coach on the field because he has played so much. He’s really unique and good at making calls.”
Johnson has had eyes on him throughout fall camp. From the coaching staff who continues to lean on him to anchor the offensive line this season, to the younger players who represent the future of Aggies football. His arrival will benefit NMSU this season and beyond.
“You always want to try and help carry along the younger guys and try to help aid in their development. Whether it’s spending extra time with them watching film, explaining concepts to them, going over technique — doing anything they need.” said Johnson. “That’s something I really enjoy doing now because I want to go into coaching when I get done playing.”
NMSU will open the season at home against Battle of I-10 rival UTEP on Saturday, Aug. 28 at Aggie Memorial Stadium. It will be the Aggies’ first home game since Nov. 23, 2019, after canceling their 2020 season due to the pandemic.
“I’m about to make a statement that could be slightly controversial, and I’m prepared to deal with the consequences. I prefer Mississippi Mexican food to New Mexico Mexican food,” said Johnson. “I know how that is going to sound and I know how that comes across. The cuisines are very different. When you are in the southeast, it’s more of a Tex-Mex style. Mexican food is seen more as a party food. It’s a lot of white queso cheese and a lot of just really greasy food. Here in New Mexico, the Mexican food is more built to fit into an every day diet. You can go to a Mexican restaurant here in Las Cruces and eat Mexican food every day of the week and probably be OK from a health standpoint. If you do that in northern Mississippi, you will end up looking like me.”