No matter how many times Muskegon High coach Tony Annese sees his star player Ronald Johnson in action, he can't help but come away impressed. Prior to the 6-1, 180-pounder's knee injury last year, fantastic plays on his part had become the norm. For Annese, a coach widely regarded as one of the state's best, molding Johnson has been a matter of knowing when to step in, and when to just let a great player be great.
"I guess you measure athletes in a lot of different ways, but Ronald is the kind of kid that regardless of what kind of measurement you have to test him…when you put him on a football field and see his natural abilities, it's something that you just can't coach.," Annese said. "He possesses that innate ability just to see the field so well. It's almost like everyone else is in slow motion just because of his ability to be able to make great cuts and great decisions with the ball. On defense, he has the ability to be in the right place at the right time. In his sophomore year he broke our school record in interceptions. There were times where he might have been out of position, where you were going, 'Ronald, oh noooo,'….then all of a sudden he made an interception. He's a game-breaking type player."
Having witnessed Johnson's talents on the football field in practice and games over the past few years, Annese has little doubt that the two-way star has the physical skills to compete at a very high level when he gets to college. That said, the veteran coach has informed his young pupil that talent alone won't ensure success at the next level.
"First off, I think a lot of (his decision) will be based on how people treat him," said Annese. "Michigan has treated him very very well. He likes being down there with the coaches. He feels at home. So for anyone to say where he's leaning towards…if there's anyplace he is leaning towards, it's Michigan for sure. Ronald is a person that needs people around him that care about him. Terrance (Taylor) went down to Michigan and they make sure that he's doing the things he needs to do academically. That's one of the things that really matters from a coach's perspective. Ronald is going to be in that same situation. We don't want any of our guys to leave Muskegon High school and be on their own. We need coaches and a support system where their #1 goal is to get their degree. I know at Michigan that's to case. Ronald is looking for that. He is looking for people that are going be sincere about the things that they say they are going to do. He has always kind of been a person where your word is your word…and it better be good. That's who he grows closest to…the people that really are honest people and have that kind of integrity. They have that kind of integrity at Michigan. Beyond that, I think he wants to be in a situation where his mom can watch him and where the people here can watch him. I think that means a lot to him."
Another coach that Johnson often seeks counsel from at Muskegon is assistant Tracy Lewis. As a former college football player himself, Lewis has a unique perspective on the recruiting process. Like Annese, he too has made it a point to stress to Johnson the non-football aspects of this decision.
"I talk to Ronald about it all of the time," Lewis said. "With Terrance Taylor, when we went down to Michigan, it was just the academic support that they have. For kids coming out of this environment…an urban setting…going to a school like that is a scary proposition. When you have people that sit down the way they sit down to talk to you…and the way they want to help you along…I saw it first hand. It was basically all about academics. It wasn't so much about the football field and what you can do this way or that way. That's what I liked about it. My kids are in Ann Arbor and when we go back and forth, I take Ronald down. I take him around the town and let him see some things. I also talk him about how he is always worried about his mom. That is close enough so his mom can reach out and touch him, and we can reach out and touch him and support him while he is down there. He is going to need that wherever he goes."
Despite the favorable early impression that the Wolverines clearly have made, those around Johnson are still encouraging him to take his time making his choice. "My greatest advice to him is to keep every door open because you never which direction you're going to go," Annese said. For a young man out of Muskegon High School in Muskegon Michigan to close a door to soon when he has no idea where some of these places are…for him to be able to research and get to know some places in this nation is a good opportunity for him.
Be sure to check out much more on Ronald Johnson in the next issue of GoBlueWolverine the Magazine.