"Jeff is one of those young men that's blessed with incredible size, and has the motor to go with it. He's a legit 6-5 and couple pounds over 300. And most significantly, he also has a great work ethic. Football is the main thing in his life, and his dream has always been to play in Division I. He's the kind of player that only comes along once every 20 years or so."
Braun was good enough to garner an early scholarship offer from West Virginia, which was quick to begin recruiting him after an outstanding showing at spring combines and WVU's summer football camp. Johnson, who knew the talent level his star lineman possessed, was still somewhat surprised that an offer came early.
"I knew Jeff was a special kind of kid, but linemen are sometimes harder to uncover [in the recruiting process], because skill guys put up the numbers. Linemen are under the radar a little bit. But he went to some local combines and scored well on the agility tests and drills there. Every place he has gone, people said, ‘Whoa, where did this kid come from?'
Johnson's analysis certainly holds true in the world of junior recruiting, as many more skill position players get early offers than linemen. The physical development that helps most linemen get bigger and stronger each year is something most coaches want to see in the guys in the trenches, but there are a handful that are so dominant early that they can't be ignored.
In addition to the physical gifts and work ethic, Braun also possesses a natural leadership ability that will certainly blossom even more during his senior season.
"He's very much a leader, and that has been hard for him to deal with a little bit this year. He is a dominating personality, and we had some strong senior leaders on our team this past year. When we lost our first round game in the playoffs, we went back to the school, and the last thing I said to Jeff was that it's your team, now. And he said, ‘I'm ready.'"
Winters Mill, which runs a 50 defense along with some elements of the 3-3 stack, used Braun all of the time on offense and about 50% of the time on defense. Winters Mill had an excellent group of defensive linemen last year, which allowed it to rest Braun in some situations. However, Johnson noted that, "when push came to shove", Braun was on the field with the defense, where he holds the most potential.
Although he's ticketed for an interior defensive line position at West Virginia in two years, Johnson has told him to keep his options open.
"Jeff played nose and tackle defensively for us, but I think he's a little more comfortable inside," Johnson related. "He's very good playing with leverage, and I think he has great potential defensively, because it fits his personality. But I also told him – we talked about this today—that his pass protection is very good, and that he has excellent technique as an offensive lineman, so don't close the door on that possibility."
A veteran on the Maryland coaching scene, Johnson is very familiar with WVU assistant coach Bill Stewart, who recruits the majority of the state. He and defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich are both favorites of the veteran mentor.
"I love ‘em and I think the world of them," Johnson said without a moment's hesitation. "They are thorough and honest and straightforward, and the kids like that and respect that. I think that's a reflection of the success they've had over the years [at West Virginia] and an indication of the quality they have and the players they recruit."