Spend some time talking with Durham (N.C.) Hillside quarterback Michael Johnson and you'll quickly understand why he is one of the more intriguing uncommitted signal callers in the country right now.
Johnson (6-2, 210), who visited the University of Arkansas this past weekend after passing for 3,142 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushing for 514 yards and five more scores his senior season, not only shines on the field but off of it as well.
"I believe that in everything you do in life – and that's not just on the football field - that you should strive to be the best you can possibly be, put the time and hard work in, listen and learn from those who know more than you do and then put your best effort out there for everyone to see," Johnson said. "Always have confidence in everything you do, but stay humble, learn and grow. Be a team player and most of all do whatever it takes for your team or your group to succeed."
Perhaps that why schools such as Arkansas, Ohio State, Oregon, Michigan State, Arizona, Miami and North Carolina are recruiting Johnson, who led his team to a 10-3 mark this season while only throwing five interceptions.
He will choose one of those teams to take a visit to on Jan. 12-14 to give him something to compare Arkansas to before making a decision.
"I guess you could say that this recruiting process has been both exciting and a bit challenging," Johnson said. "I've just tried to examine all the situations in an effort to make the right decision without wasting my time and the time of the teams who have honored me by taking the time to recruit me."
It's clear that Johnson was thrilled with what he found at the University of Arkansas this weekend and the Razorback staff has put itself ahead of the field at this point.
"My visit to Arkansas went great, just great," Johnson said. "I got there and felt totally comfortable not only with the players and (Razorback head) Coach Houston Nutt and the assistant coaches, but the whole community. I can tell the coaches really care about their players as a family and that feeling extends to the community as well. My mom really, really loved it as well."
"The thing that really stood out with their coaches is that they care and interact with you whether it is in a practice or being involved with your academics or just making you feel wanted and on the right path," Johnson said. "But I can also see that they are about the truth and will also tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear."
That really came through to Johnson in regards to Arkansas quarterbacks coach Alex Wood, who has been an offensive coordinator in the NFL.
"I have a great feeling about Coach Wood and the fact that did impress me the most is that he was straight forward and honest with me from the start," Johnson said. "He could have been one of those guys that came in and promised playing time right away and do like most of the coaches do and tell you what they think you want to hear instead of what you really need to hear."
Johnson, who had Notre Dame wideout commit Greg Little to throw to this season, is aware that Arkansas has sophomore Casey Dick and freshman Mitch Mustain - already in place along with redshirting transfer Nathan Emert.
He labeled Dick and Mustain – a pair of players he spent time with on his visit – as "really good guys who were very helpful in pointing out how great a program Arkansas is."
"I obviously know what the situation is there - they have not one, but two very good quarterbacks already in place, developing and having a chance to be one among the very best in the SEC," Johnson said. "So I am glad he didn't come with what a lot of other people would have told me.
"What Coach Wood did say was exactly what I wanted to hear," Johnson continued. "That is that they have two great young quarterbacks right now and we are looking for the next great one, but we want it to be somebody who will be patient, learn and then be ready to be one of the best in the SEC when those guys have finished. That is just the type situation I am looking for."
Johnson is impressed with Wood's credentials.
"When you look at Coach Wood and all he has accomplished on the highest level and the quarterbacks he has worked with in the NFL, it's very impressive," Johnson said. "He is a very, very smart guy. If he is good enough to be hired to work with those guys, he's sure plenty qualified to take a young high school kid like myself and make me better. It would be a honor to work with him."
Johnson also was impressed with Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
"Coach Malzahn, well, he's just a guru and I don't think there is anything he doesn't know about offense," Johnson said. "You have to be impressed with what he accomplished at Springdale High and now he is bringing those ideas to the college level and you can see his influence already. They are talking about getting more and more of his ideas into things each season and I am sure that they are going to have one of the best and most entertaining offenses in the country.
"We really didn't get a chance to set down and go over plays and draw them up on the board, but we did get a chance to bond and just talk football and relationships and stuff like that," Johnson added. "Like I said, he's brilliant."
Johnson finished his season by connecting on 20-of-33 passes for 253 yards in a 21-18 loss to Fuquay-Varina in the second round of the state playoffs after going 4-7 in 2005.
"It was a great turnaround for our team and myself personally this season," Johnson said, "I passed for just 1,500 yards as a junior, but got a new quarterback coach this year and he just really improved everything about me. We had a great year, but it was tough to lose that last game, especially since we missed three PATs."
Asked to assess his strengths and weaknesses, Johnson was quick to point out the mental side of the game as well as the physical.
"I have a strong arm, but I think the best thing I use is my brain," Johnson said. "I think I do a very good job of things before the play even gets started. As I am coming to the line, I am reading my keys, seeing where I have 1-on-1 things that can be taken advantage of, what defender is in what position and anticipating if the play is going to be successful before the ball is snapped. If not, I need to get us in something else.
"I also think I have very good patience in the pocket to allow things to develop," Johnson said. "I try to get things down with my arm first, but if things break down I can make positive plays with my feet. But I don't think you should just take off running at the first sign of pressure. You have to know when to hang in there and allow your man to make a play.
"As for my weaknesses, I want to get bigger and stronger and continuing gaining knowledge to understand the game and just improving in all the technical aspects of making the jump from high school to college football," Johnson added.
Who will get that last visit from Johnson?
"It's a dead (recruiting) period right now, but I will be doing some thinking and decide where I want to go on that weekend of Jan. 13," Johnson said. "After that I would like to make a commitment pretty quick."
Ohio State is one of the choices in the mix there, but the Buckeyes have not decided whether they are actually going to sign a quarterback.
"They have called me about every two weeks and stayed in touch," Johnson said. "I may take that visit out to Oregon, but we'll see. I have some thinking to do about that."
As for how many of those teams have made offers, Johnson said he is keeping that quiet.
"My coach and family and I have decided to the best thing I can do for myself is not to talk about which schools have offered and which ones have not," Johnson said. "That's how we are approaching things."
Arkansas appears to be the leader in the clubhouse for Johnson, who has been to North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech on unofficial visits.
"If you want to talk about a leader, my trip to Arkansas – which was obviously my first official visit – obviously has me thinking very high about the Razorbacks and what could happen for me there if that is where I end up," Johnson said. "I can't say enough good things about the place."
Arkansas Wows Johnson
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