VETTEL: Conversation With Carl Johnson

While I don't participate in covering recruiting from the standpoint of who is going to visit where and when, there is one part of recruiting coverage I still enjoy. That is when I get a chance to speak one-on-one with a kid who has already made his decision to play for the Gators (or someone else) and begin the process of getting to know him. I had such an opportunity a few days back when I visited over the phone Carl Johnson, the massive offensive line prospect from Durham, North Carolina.

Carl Johnson is widely regarded as one of the top five o-line prospects in the nation for next year and his commitment to play for Urban Meyer begins the process of replenishing a Florida line corps that loses five seniors after the 2005 season. Johnson had plenty of choices, being pursued by schools from Michigan to Southern Cal and virtually everyone in this part of the country.

Johnson is an impressive kid to talk with, well spoken, respectful and obviously intelligent. His ability to graduate in December and enroll at UF this spring attests to that. And at 6-6, 347, he has plenty of size.

LV: Carl, tell me why you decided to be a Gator.

CJ: The surprising thing is it was the off-the-field activities. The players were really down-to-earth and "homey", and the academic people and coaching staff talked more about learning in the classroom, than the field. Most other places worry about the field, then class but they talked more to me about being a man and supporting your family knowing football wasn't going to last forever.

LV: Were you particularly impressed that the players seem to have bought into the coaches' philosophy considering they haven't been here all that long?

CJ: Yes sir, I know they haven't been there a long time, but when you see players that are willing to throw their body out there and believe in their coach that tells me it's going to be a very special thing happening there at Florida.

LV: Did you get a chance to connect with any of the players in particular?

CJ: Yeah, I got to talk to Ronnie Wilson as well as Chris Leak and some of the other North Carolina athletes (Lance Butler, Jonathan Marvin) that play there.

LV: Ronnie Wilson is a guy who came in here in January … did you talk with him about that since you are planning to do the same thing?

CJ: Yeah, I talked to him about that a lot. He said it's a very good thing to do that because you get in here and learn the program while the other freshmen are still in high school. The earlier you learn the program, the earlier you can play because you get to go through spring ball and the summer workouts.

LV: I read an article about you a month ago that indicated you didn't have a leader among the schools you were considering. How did things come together so quickly with the Gators?

CJ: My dad (and coach, Jeff Parker) came down there for spring practice and when he came back he told me I know you weren't leaning towards Florida but you need to go down there and see what I've seen. He knows what he's talking about, so I came down there. I got to spend a few days chillin' with the players and talking with the coaches and just by being in that environment you know it's something special. You can tell all Florida fans, all of Gainesville is excited about this upcoming season and I am, too. I could just feel a family atmosphere where the players say to each other, what I got you got and that means a lot.

LV: Are you going to be able to come down this fall and take in a game?

CJ: Yeah, I've been talking to my dad and we may come for two. We're going to try to come down and see them play Tennessee and make my official visit when they play Florida State.

LV: With either one of those games you'll be treated to an atmosphere that'll knock your socks off. Now tell me what are your goals for your senior season in Durham and how do you want to improve as a player?

CJ: I just want to consistently play above my level of competition. In high school there's not that much competition at my school or in the area that I play so I want to focus on getting better. College is a whole different level because everyone is your size and has strength so I want to focus on getting better in every area so I'm above the average freshman.

Right now the Florida Gators have 15 offensive linemen on scholarship which is about two or three below where a team would normally like to be. With five of the 15 being seniors (Hand, Degory, Butler, Washington & Marvin), look for the Gators to bring in a half dozen big 'uns for the signing class of 2006. Indications are this is a good year for offensive linemen in the state, but it's an out-of-state guy who has gotten the ball rolling.

Next week some highlights from an extended conversation with Jamie Newberg about the May evaluation period and what he's hearing from high school players and coaches about the Gator coaching staff.

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