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Princeton football captain and star linebacker Liam Johnson commits to UC Berkeley

A man in a white jersey and orange and black helmet walking off a grass field.
Last season, Johnson was fourth in the Ivy League with 83 total tackles on the season.
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonFTBL/X.

On March 22, All-Ivy senior linebacker Liam Johnson announced his decision to commit to the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) following his decision to enter the transfer portal on Feb. 1. Johnson, the 2022 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, will use his fifth year of eligibility to join the Golden Bears squad.

Though he couldn’t be more excited to head out west, Johnson will not soon forget his time as a Princeton Tiger anytime soon.


“Princeton made me into a man and a collectively better person,” Johnson told The Daily Princetonian. “Whether it was on the football field or in the classroom, I was constantly surrounded by people that were better than me.”

Throughout the recruiting process, Princeton stresses the combination of athletics and superb academics — a pairing Johnson found attractive at Princeton and similarly encountered at UC Berkeley.

“I think that’s why I chose the school originally,” he added. “I felt like it was the best place for me to grow and compete with the best people in the world. I chose Cal for the exact same reasons, just in a different environment.”

The Golden Bears have picked up a stellar inside linebacker in Johnson. As a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection and the 2022 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, Johnson is sure to add quality and depth to Berkeley’s defense after being a regular starter in Princeton’s defense for the past two seasons.

This past season, Johnson was fourth in the Ivy League in tackles across all positions — notching 83 — and averaged 8.3 per game. He also managed three sacks across the season, putting him 14th in the Ivy League, all of which were solo efforts. He has formed a major part of an impressive Princeton defense across the past two seasons, which this season allowed the fewest total yards (3021) and the fewest number of points (175) in the Ivy League.

He will be complimenting the Golden Bears’ defensive inside linebacking unit which recently lost two of its starting players — Jackson Sirmon, is declaring for the NFL draft, and Kaleb Elarms-Orr, who is committing to TCU. Elarms-Orr was third in the PAC-12 conference in tackles per game, with 8.4 whilst Sirmon was just behind in fourth with 8.3.


However, Johnson is not a guaranteed starter. He will have to prove himself against sophomore rising talent Cade Uluave and incoming transfer Teddye Buchanan. With his resume and skills, though, he should have the ability to claim a starting spot from the beginning of the season. Either way, the Golden Bears have a strong set of inside linebackers as two these experienced players and a standout sophomore will complement each other well.

Johnson will now compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which Cal joined following the PAC-12 exodus at the end of last season. Following last season’s 6–7 overall record, a 4–5 conference record, and an end-of-season Independence Bowl loss against Texas Tech, the Golden Bears will be looking to make vast improvements for next season and Johnson will be of assistance.

While at Princeton, Johnson formed a dynamic duo with fellow senior — and Duke commit — Ozzie Nicholas, who led the Ivy League in tackles with 104 last season. The Tigers have quite the hole to fill to replace this star linebacker duo.

Several other players are looking to fill these spots. The Tigers have stellar depth in the position, and with spring training already underway, many linebackers will be under the scrutiny of head coach Bob Surace ’90 to fill this role. Some of the potential names to fill these spots are junior Carson Irons, sophomore Sekou Roland — who has already been impressive for the Tigers — and sophomore Will Beesley.

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Reflecting on his time here and looking to the future, Johnson told the ‘Prince,’ “Princeton gave me the understanding that I need to constantly be growing and improving my skill set, which is what I hope to do at Cal.”

In his final, fifth year of eligibility, the Tigers will be rooting for Johnson as he takes the lessons he learned inside the Orange Bubble to start this new stage of his career.

Alex Beverton-Smith is an assistant Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’

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