Small Town Hero Excited By Illini Attention

It is rare when an athlete from a small town school makes it big in college sports. Lack of competition and other factors limit them to smaller colleges in most cases. But Micah Johnson may become an exception. The Tolono star is receiving recruiting interest from several schools including Illinois.

Micah Johnson is an outstanding athlete for Unity High School in Tolono. But he didn't expect the attention he is getting from college football coaches.

"Not many of our kids go on to Big 10 schools. We're 3-A, so we're pretty small. It's really an honor to get recruited."

He admits shock upon hearing from a Big 10 school.

"Yeah, it actually was. I got my first letter from the University of Minnesota. I figured everybody must get these; it couldn't be that Minnesota actually had an interest in me. But then I got another one a couple weeks later, and it was also Minnesota. I was like, 'What's going on here?'

"Then I got a Facebook message from a big school. And then all the other letters just started coming in. I was invited to Junior Days, and now I'm getting invited to the summer camps.

"I've been invited to NIU's one-day; ISU and Indiana State want me to go to one; Iowa wants me go to one. I think I might go to one in Minnesota. I want to get to Illinois as soon as I can."

The Illini connection came after he shared his junior year video highlights.

"Last year I played slot receiver. I played that position as a sophomore also. I sent out my highlight film after last season, and letters and e-mails from Illinois started coming in. So that was cool."

The 6'-0", 185 pounder believes he knows what interested Illini coaches most.

"They run the jet sweep there a lot with this new coaching staff. That is kind of my play here at Unity. In my sophomore year, they had me at fly, and the first time I ran the jet sweep, it went for a 75 yard touchdown. That's my play, and it's on my film a lot. They saw that and liked it."

Illinois receiver coach Billy Gonzales appears to think highly of Johnson.

"I talked to Coach González at the Spring Game. He's my receiver coach. He told me straight up, 'I like you right now if you play for us. With your speed, you'd be just fine playing for us.' He told me he's a speed guy and really liked speed, and that was what was most appealing about me.

"He said I had what it took to play for him. That was cool to hear. So it sounded like I might be getting an offer sometime after the ACT."

The ACT is a hang-up for him. He is a good student, but he doesn't want to take it again. He explains the complication.

"I don't want to take the writing portion of the ACT's right now. If they don't require that, that's nice. The writing portion isn't required to take the ACT right now, but if I go to a school that requires it, I would have to take the whole ACT again, along with the writing portion.

"Actually, writing and literature are probably my best strengths in school. Mathematics I kind of have a problem with. If anything, the writing portion would be helpful. It's just the idea of taking the whole ACT again that isn't very appealing."

Johnson didn't grow up in Tolono, but he has lived in rural settings most of his life.

"We moved here about four years ago when my dad got a job at the U of I. We used to live about twenty miles outside of Quincy, Illinois. Then we moved to a town called Liberty for about 3-4 years. Then we moved here."

Johnson feels he has other valuable skills for receiver besides his speed.

"I have pretty good hands; I don't drop many balls that are thrown to me. I wouldn't say I'm the shiftiest guy, but I'm starting to develop some moves. My sophomore year, I couldn't make a move to save my life. I was just pretty fast. Junior year, I started to juke people out. So hopefully by this year, I'll have some moves."

He may also gain attention from colleges for his defensive play this fall.

"I will be playing defense also this year. I consider myself something of a ball hawk. I have good ball-tracking skills, so I think I'll be pretty good on defense this year. I can flip my hips, but most of my sports injuries have been to my hips. You'd think I'd be a bad corner because I can't flip my hips. But it's all fine."

Johnson has reduced his sports load from three to two as he's gotten older.

"I played basketball until my sophomore year. Then I decided to focus on track more. Basketball wasn't my best sport, and it was weighing down on me. I'm an athlete, but trying to be good at three sports was tough. So this year I ran indoor track instead of basketball."

At one time this spring, he had the best times in the state for Class 1-A.

"I anchor my 4 X 100 team, and I run the open 100 and 200. My best times are 10.85 in the 100 and 22.41 in the 200."

It remains to be seen whether the future Communications major receives an Illini offer. But he is certainly one of the best athletes to be developed in Champaign County in a long while.

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