Bloomington, Ind. – Indiana assistant coach Billy Lynch has been delivering a message to Gulfport, Fla., standout Orhian Johnson throughout the recruiting process.
"We kind of have a little joke – he always tells me, ‘don't let them take the ball out of your hands'," Johnson said.
Lynch's message is in reference to the fact that numerous programs have been targeting the Boca Ciega H.S. standout as an athlete instead of as a quarterback. Some think the 6-4, 190-pounder would fit best as either a wide receiver or possibly a safety at the collegiate level.
Lynch, meanwhile, has made it clear for the better part of a year that the Hoosiers want him badly, and they want him under center. Johnson said that Lynch first took notice of his skills when he was in town to evaluate another player more than a year ago, and he let it be known that he'd be back to recruit Johnson to Bloomington.
"He told me he was going to come back and try to get me, and he kept his word," Johnson said.
The Hoosiers not only want Johnson, they want him badly. With anywhere from five to eight scholarships remaining, Johnson has emerged as one of the Hoosiers' most coveted recruits in the '08 class. He's one of the big names on Indiana's list of official visitors for this weekend, a grouping of 14 that includes Indianapolis running back Darius Willis, among others.
"They've told me that they really want me bad, but I try to keep a level head about it," Johnson said.
Lynch and IU offensive coordinator Matt Canada recently reiterated that fact during an in-home visit with Johnson and his family.
"They came down and explained things to my parents, answered their questions," Johnson said.
Scout's 49th-ranked quarterback nationally, Johnson is coming off a senior season that included 1,100 yards passing and 15 touchdowns for a team that went 8-3. He's impressed programs nationwide with his skills, and top-flight programs such as Ohio State and Tennessee have reportedly offered scholarships.
But those two schools have him pegged as an athlete, and Johnson said his preference is now to get a chance to play quarterback.
"I want to be a quarterback in college," Johnson said. "But I have to find the right fit. I know I'm athletic and can play a lot of positions. Quarterback is what I want to do, but I know I can play other positions."
While that fact gives Indiana an edge, Kansas, South Florida, Florida International, UConn and Memphis are among the other schools that are recruiting Johnson as a quarterback as well.
Another thing that appeals to the Hoosiers about Johnson is that they see a lot of similarities between him and current starter Kellen Lewis. Like Johnson, Lewis was recruited by many programs as an athlete but held out for the opportunity to play quarterback. Indiana gave him that chance, and he's already shattered a slew of IU's single-season school records.
"They say that they like how I'd fit in their offense," Johnson said. "They say that me and Kellen have some similarities. They like my height, my speed, and my arm strength, and they think I'm like a raw material that they can work with and then make me into the best player I can be."
Johnson is a bit of a raw material because he's only spent two seasons as a starting quarterback. After playing in the secondary early in his prep career and serving as a back-up quarterback in Boca Ciega's option-style attack, he wound up being the only returning quarterback on the roster when coach Stevie Thomas took over two years ago and introduced a more conventional offensive system.
"I was the only one was left that had played quarterback, so I went out there and did that," Johnson said. "I've enjoyed it. I like having the ball in my hands when the game is on the line."
Lynch and the IU staff wants to keep the ball in his hands as well, and they want to do it with Johnson in an IU uniform. They've delivered that message throughout the recruiting process, along with one other message as well.
"He keeps telling me, ‘you're our guy,'" Johnson said.
IU's Message Getting Through to Johnson
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