Freshman spring visit set stage for Taariq Johnson and Cal

Just before National Signing Day, Cal offered four 2017 prospects out of Buena Park (Calif.), including Taariq Johnson, who had already fallen in love with Berkeley.

On March 23 of his freshman year at Buena Park (Calif.), Taariq Johnson took what he called "just a normal visit, nothing spectacular about it," to California. While the impromptu visit was initially just to "pop by," he came away from the trip with much stronger feelings for the Golden Bears. "I've watched Cal over the years, and I've been generally interested in the program since my freshman year, when I had taken a visit and saw the campus and facilities," Johnson said, "and I've been in love with it ever since."

The Bears took that relationship to the next level on the Monday before National Signing Day, offering Johnson, 2017 receiver Jeremiah Hawkins, cornerback Elijah Gates and offensive tackle Ryan Nelson. Inside receivers coach Jacob Peeler offered Johnson, listed as a tight end, but where he'd wind up with Cal hasn't yet been discussed. What keeps the flames alive for Johnson?

"[Cal's] balance between academics and athletics," he said, "[and] also how they specialize in throwing the football around."

Johnson isn't just paying lipservice to the academic part of the equation. He's currently taking two Advanced Placement classes (English Language and Environmental Science) and Honors Pre-Calculus, and he has a 3.3 unweighted cumulative grade point average. Johnson is mulling over majoring in engineering, because, he said, "it would be cool to do, and provides a pretty good income."

Other plusses for the Bears include the fact that former teammate Jaylinn Hawkins is on the team, though the two haven't spoken "as of yet" about Cal. Johnson and the younger Hawkins -- Jeremiah -- "have been close friends for years," Johnson said, and he's known Jaylinn almost as long. Peeler, in particular, has been a strong anchor for Johnson.

"I like that he's laid back, and he actually cares about establishing a player-coach relationship," Johnson said.

At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Johnson could gain 20-30 pounds and easily become a Stephen Anderson-type tight end at the next level, or he could stay hwere he is, and be a very effective outside receiver who's got both size, speed and ball skills. 

"Johnson plays like a big receiver and can make plays down the field," said West Coast Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins. "He's an explosive playmaker who catches the ball well and shows good body control. He also runs very well after the catch and has an excellent burst to him. He'll need to add some size and strength to make the transition to tight end in college but he projects as that hybrid tight end/h-back type who you can line up all over the field and he'll make plays for you."

Last season for the Coyotes, Johnson caught 34 balls for 477 yards and six touchdowns in just nine games of action. Though Jake Spavital has yet to be officially announced as the new offensive coordinator, Johnson has been told that the Bears will "still continue to air it out," and that suits him just fine. He considers himself both a tight end and a wide receiver, and said that he finds that he excells at both. 

Johnson has offers from Michigan, Miami, Arizona State, Colorado, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Washington and Baylor, to go along with the Bears, but is taking his time with recruiting, not wanting to name a top group quiet yet.

"I'm still young in the process and haven't really put much thought into it," he said.

As for coming back to make another spring visit? It's still up in the air.

"I don't know at this point," Johnson said. "But, I'll look into it."

This spring and summer, Johnson will play on the B2G All-Star 7-on-7 team, along with Jeremiah Hawkins. Top Stories