Oklahoma fans weren’t trying to act like they weren’t enthusiastic. Any commitment to the Sooners is going to make the legion of fans excited.
But who in the heck was Will Johnson? And how in the world did he go from having zero notable offers to being OU’s first commitment in two months?
Junior college recruits always have a unique story, but when it comes to Johnson, there are few stories that can compare with how he’s coming from Maryland to New York to now coming to Norman as a mid-year enrollee.
“Will has come a long way, has battled through a lot,” said Cory Robinson, his mentor. “He started out as a basketball player. The first time I met him was for football practice, and he had a basketball in his hand. I sent him home. This isn’t basketball.”
If that story sounds familiar, Robinson had the exact same talk with OU junior defensive end Charles Tapper. The Baltimore native, like Johnson, always thought he would be a star on the hardwood instead of the gridiron.
Safe to say that change has worked out pretty well for Tapper and the Sooners, and OU fans, players and coaches are hoping for more of the same from Johnson.
Robinson coached Johnson at Calvert Hall High. Johnson was the odd man out of a secondary that all wound up at Penn State. He didn’t academically qualify so he tried a prep school before landing at Monroe in New York.
“I hadn’t even heard of the school at the time, but I knew it was my shot,” Johnson said. “All I could do was make the most of it.”
Johnson said high school was a real challenge for him. Growing up in Baltimore, he said school just never came easy no matter how hard he worked.
No excuses, though, for Johnson at Monroe. He said it hasn’t been easy, but he has a 3.7 GPA and will have his associates degree after this semester.
“He has grown up,” Robinson said. “He is a young man who gone through a lot of letdowns, a lot of uncertainty. But that has built up a lot of resilience in him, and it shows how he is handling his day-to-day business and developing his character.”
Johnson has turned the corner but that still didn’t explain how OU came into the picture. Because before last week, he still wasn’t.
He was found by accident. Robinson was actually talking to the OU coaches about another prospect, juco safety Ezekiel Turner, when Robinson casually mentioned to OU cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright about Johnson.
The OU coaches got a chance to check out Johnson’s film, and the next call was to Robinson making sure Johnson joined Turner on an official visit of his own last weekend.
Johnson was hearing from Utah State, Fresno State and several MAC schools. Robinson said the plan for Johnson was going to be simple – attend Towson University in Maryland and just continue training until the NFL Draft came down the road.
“I honestly didn’t expect it to happen (asking for a visit), but it also didn’t surprise me,” Robinson said. “Knowing their need for cornerbacks, I just wanted to know what they thought.”
Johnson started talking to OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops last week, and Johnson said Stoops told him as long as he was taller than 5-foot-9, he would be good to go for OU.
Johnson is listed at 6-1, 175 pounds on the Monroe website, and he passed the eyeball test with flying colors last week. However, Johnson said thinking about the offer never really entered his mind during the visit.
“I was actually enjoying myself the whole time and wasn’t even thinking about that,” Johnson said. “I was just having a good time.”
Johnson watched the first half of OU’s win against Kansas from the sidelines but then was told to come inside during the second half when the rain became heavier.
For Johnson, that’s a moment that stood out because he finally got a chance to comprehend what it’s like on TV and in person.
“It’s so much more real when you’re there than on TV,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t really come off that loud on TV, but it was really, really loud.”
He was getting ready to head back to New York when he was called into Bob Stoops’ office and was offered. After thinking about it, he committed.
“He was constantly pinching himself all weekend,” Robinson said. “He didn’t know if it was all a dream. He went there without an offer, and it’s always great to get the official word from Coach Stoops himself that you’re wanted like that.”
Johnson’s dedication in the classroom is the same way he approaches the game of football. He said it’s his technique, his football IQ that is going to set him apart from other defensive back.
And unlike most junior college prospects, he is going to have three years of eligibility left when he steps on campus in January.
It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Johnson, but he knows the journey is not over, not by a longshot.
“I’m hoping I can inspire other guys – some of those other small time guys who never thought they could make it.
“I was a zero-star recruit. Some of these guys are mad about being two stars, I would have loved that. I was a zero star. I can truly say that if you work hard, good things can happen. But I’m not done yet.”