Dodge City (Kansas) Community College linebacker Gary Johnson took his first official visit to Tempe last weekend and Arizona State set the bar high.
"It was a really great experience," Johnson said. "Arizona State is a great place. I never had been there before, didn't know what to expect. Once I got there I saw the grounds and checked out the facility and was impressed."
The No. 3 overall junior college player in the 2017 class, and top-ranked linebacker, Johnson is in-demand as a recruit. He was formerly committed to Alabama but re-opened his recruitment due to a more stringent academic requirement the SEC has for junior college transfers.
ASU worked on building a relationship with Johnson even when he was committed to ASU, so it was well positioned once he decided to take his recruitment elsewhere. It also didn't hurt that the Sun Devils recently had a player do very well on defense from the same school Johnson is graduating from.
"Coach (Keith) Patterson had told me, 'have you ever heard of (defensive lineman) Marcus Hardison? I never had but I looked him up and he played at Dodge City. When I did it kind of opened my eyes that a player like that went to ASU so I thought why not go down there to Arizona State for a visit. They tell me a lot about the players they've produced and moved on to the next level or are doing good things with their lives."
Then, when Johnson visited ASU, he was able to connect with Koron Crump, who is also a product of the Kansas junior college system. Crump became a second-team all-league player following his first season with the Sun Devils.
"I played against him last year here in Kansas and I got to talk to him about what it was like for him, somebody who came from the same place as me," Johnson said. "When I found out he was [a second-team all-conference] player, the facts kind of added up that Arizona State does really transition junior college players.
"After the visit I thought about, could I see myself playing in their defensive scheme? What would my mom think? Would she be happy here? But mostly I felt like, 'man, that place felt like home,' or I could really see myself there.' I mean, Arizona State is really nice. I'm still going to take all my visits but it's going to be hard to feel better about a school."
Johnson said he has no other official visits firmly set but is planning to take trips to Maryland, Oklahoma State and USC in January.
A running back through high school, Johnson transitioned to linebacker and his future really started to take shape as a senior. There was a seminal moment that led to his Twitter name, which declares, "I hate QB's and RB's!!"
"My favorite player has always been (former NFL star linebacker) Ray Lewis but I don't really try to play like anybody else," Johnson said. "I play like myself but I've always been violent on the field. I played offense on the field. It wasn't my think to take a hit. But once I got on defense, all I thought was violence when I get on the field.
"In the spring time my junior year when I was getting ready to play my senior year, my coach was yelling at me. I said, 'man, coach, I hate quarterbacks, I hate running backs. I hate them all. It was that day that I decided to change my Twitter and it just kind of stuck."