Johnston, who visited Ole Miss officially over the weekend, will choose from the Rebels, Iowa and Arkansas. He’s eliminated the home-state Auburn Tigers, who he visited last week but was only offering a scholarship as an H-back. Johnston said he prefers to play linebacker at the next level, and each of his finalists presents the opportunity.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Johnston is the all-time leader in tackles in Alabama high school football history. He was the MVP of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in December after totaling 16 tackles.
“I called and told Auburn that i’m going somewhere that wants me at linebacker,” Johnston said. “I’ve grown up playing linebacker and I love defense. I love hitting people. The opportunity to go to Auburn is awesome, but I’m doing what’s best for me.”
Johnston was impressed with his first visit ever to Ole Miss.
“This place is awesome,” he said. “Beautiful campus, awesome people. I had a great weekend. (The best part was) getting on campus and seeing how awesome it is. They bring that family atmosphere that other schools do and I feel wanted up here. They don’t want me, they need me.”
The addition of Johnston would certainly provide a significant boost to an Ole Miss linebacker corps in desperate need of production.
The Rebels started eight different players at its two linebacker positions in 2016 with little to show for their efforts outside of DeMarquis Gates, who led the team with 79 tackles. But Gates had his issues, too, from missed assignments to a suspension for on and off-the-field issues. Johnston could see the field immediately.
“They didn’t guarantee anything, but they say it’s the best opportunity in the SEC to come in as a true freshman,” Johnston said. “It’s big. I’ve always dreamed about playing as a true freshman, but I’ll take that year to redshirt if I need it. I want to go in and have the opportunity, for sure.”
Ole Miss is recruiting Johnston to play either mike or will linebacker, and if his numbers are any indication, he’d be fine at either. Johnston broke former Auburn standout Demarco McNeil’s state record with more 675 tackles in his career, including 197 this season. Johnston started 65 consecutive games for Spanish Fort High School to finish his career.
“Where I feel most comfortable and am needed the most. Where I see myself being if it's without football,” Johnston said, when asked what the deciding factors in his recruitment will be.
“Distance, yeah, is the (negative) deal with Iowa. I want my family to see me, but I have family out there. In Arkansas, it’s in the (SEC) West. My family could get to Ole Miss, Mississippi State and others. There’s no concerns at all.”
Johnston plans to announce his decision this week.
“I’m going to get friends from the community and family and go to a restaurant and celebrate it there,” he said.
On his family in Iowa: “Aunt and uncle 20 minutes from campus, and grandparents an hour and a half (away). Coaches up there, you can trust them. (Iowa head coach Kirk) Ferentz has been there 27 or 28 years total. He is probably there all four years, and that’s hard to say now. That speaks for itself.”
On Arkansas: “I love coach (Bret) Bielema. He's recruited me throughout the process.”
On Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, formerly of Auburn: “He was over there. I’ve known him for about a year. The relationship has grown a lot the last month. Great guy and a great recruiter. It’s going to be hard for people to turn him down.”