Prior to the recruiting process beginning, Johnson and Blankenship sat down to map out the next year.
"I asked him what his dream school would be," Johnson said. "He said he always dreamed about playing at Notre Dame."
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Blankenship is now on pace to realize the dream after committing to the Irish on Friday, but not after the diligence shown by Johnson. He said he contacted the Irish coaching staff several times about Blankenship, but he didn't hear back until midway through the spring, and by then Blankenship had close to two dozen offers.
"I finally got a hold of (assistant) coach (Kerry) Cooks and left him a message and told him about Grant," Johnson said. "I said, ‘Hey, this kid has 28 Division I offers and he's got Oklahoma and Oregon and TCU and Kansas State. I said he's got some big programs that are after him.'
"He called me back the next day and I got the video out to them and they offered him the next day. He was real fired up about that."
Blankenship's extensive offer list was close to three dozen schools.
"He's fast," Johnson said. "Everybody that comes in here really likes his frame. I've had several guys who coached in the NFL that are now back in the college game that have recruited him that said he's better than so-and-so, who I coached in the NFL. He's got that kind of frame and that kind of motor, and I think what Notre Dame wants to do with him is utilize his length and his speed.
"He's not the prototypical 300-pound defensive lineman that Notre Dame has. From that I understand, they're looking at him as more of their strong side linebacker, and a guy when they want to get in a four-man front will walk down to the line and become a rusher.
"He's going to get in throwing lanes a lot and he's going to bat a bunch of passes down. He does a lot of that for us, and I know Notre Dame will utilize his size. It's hard to coach the speed aspect of it. It's hard finding a defensive line as big as he is who runs like he does. That's why everybody showed so much interest in him."
Blankenship had 16 sacks as a junior, and should benefit from his first full offseason with the football program. He played basketball as a freshman and sophomore, and it curtailed his physical development.
"Strength-wise, he's going to be behind a little bit," Johnson said. "This year was the first time he was with us the whole offseason, so developmentally he still has a lot of room to grow. He does have a good frame and good weight on him right now, but he's nowhere near as strong as he's going to be.
"He'll get there. He's going to be behind a little bit, but he's finally started to see football is where his bread is going to be buttered. He's got a good work ethic. It's not going to take him long to get in there and put the weight on, and strength will come."
The decision to commit was clinched when Blankenship visited campus last month.
"He had a chance to go up and look at the campus and meet with the coaches, and he just fell in love with it," Johnson said. "And the fact it is the team he dreamed about playing for when he was a little boy …he called me up this morning and he said, ‘Coach, I'm ready to commit.' "