Noah Johnson learned early in his football career that playing center was not going to be a snap.
Or, more to the point, that it was much more than a snap.
"My sophomore year of high school, I was playing a little bit of center, and we got into our first contact camp and I did just awful," said Johnson, who despite an ill-fated first attempt enters his senior season at Kansas State as the Wildcats' presumptive starter at center. "I got moved to tackle, and I played tackle for the rest of my career of high school."
Following a standout high school career at Wichita's Bishop Carroll High School, Johnson moved on to Butler Community College, where again he worked briefly at center before settling in as an all-Jayhawk Conference guard. It was not until he walked on at K-State last fall, after a year away from football, that he finally found his spot.
"The first time I really got the rock in my hand was last spring here," said Johnson, who has since earned a scholarship. "The biggest thing is just becoming comfortable with the ball in your hand, because that's all it is.
"Snapping can get in your head (because) it's a hard thing to do — snapping and blocking."
Even at a new position, Johnson became the backup to three-year starter Adam Holtorf at center, appearing in three games. He also quickly established himself as a leader among the offensive linemen, despite his lack of experience.
"He has a huge impact on the other offensive linemen," K-State offensive line coach Conor Riley said of Johnson. "Noah does a phenomenal job studying the game.
"He plays the game the right way and he's a great leader for our group."
Junior guard Josh Rivas is the lone returning lineman with significant game experience, so the opening existed for Johnson to assert himself. It was a role he welcomed, although he is quick to share the credit.
"Just my personality, I talk quite a bit, so I may get a little more credit than maybe I deserve on some of that leadership stuff," he said. "But it's really been our whole group really coming together and just rallying around each other.
"I am a senior and I do play center, so naturally I want that role of being the guy and being the leader, but it's the whole group."
Perhaps so, but there is little doubt who is the most vocal.
"When we fall a little flat, when that confidence is being dented, he's the guy who is rallying that group," Riley said. "With our offense, our communication really begins and kind of ends with that center, so his ability to communicate (and) get guys going in the right direction has been phenomenal."
With the coronavirus pandemic robbing Johnson of spring practice, he spent much of the summer at home in Wichita working with former Carroll quarterback John Honas on center exchanges and recognizing defenses, among other things.
"I taught him a couple of the big plays we would run, he'd give me a defensive front and give me a call," Johnson said. "Just trying to replicate those in-game reps, and I think it really paid off."
Johnson, who at 6-foot-1, 287 pounds is on the small side for a major college offensive lineman, has relied on his wits — he was a first-team academic all-Big 12 selection last year — but also on his tenacity to get where he is today.
"For me, being an undersized guy, I've got to play a little bit harder," he said. "That's just how it is, so that's what I try to do."
That dedication has not been lost on Riley.
"A walk-on, a transition guy — never played center before — I couldn't be more pleased with where Noah is at," Riley said.