About the same time Ryan Johnson learned to talk and walk, Mike DeBord was calling plays for a national championship team.
DeBord took over as the new offensive coordinator at Tennessee earlier this month. Now, the Muncie, Indiana, native must hit the ground running getting to know not only the current Volunteers but the recruits Butch Jones and other staff members have been after for over a year already.
Johnson, a Scout four-star offensive tackle prospect, gave the Tennessee coaches his word back on July 19 that he was bringing his 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame to Rocky Top in 2016. Now, DeBord and Johnson are full-speed ahead getting to know one another, including a face-to-face meeting Saturday during an invite-only junior day event in Knoxville.
“Definitely furthering my relationships,” Johnson said. “I got to meet coach Debo last week; I got to sit down and talk with him and that was great. I really enjoy talking with him and getting to know him. I really like him as a person, as a coach. I think he knows his stuff, so I'm really happy about that. I really enjoy getting to know other recruits and just hanging around and getting to know the players better.”
DeBord has experience as an offensive line coach on the collegiate level at seven previous stops. His experience can only benefit Tennessee assistant Don Mahoney — and future Vols blockers like Johnson.
“The more offensive line coaches that there are on staff the better,” Johnson told InsideTennessee. “The more people who know in-depth what we are doing, that's great. I think (DeBord) knows a lot about it. I think he's a great coach, and I got to talk to him. I think he's a good coach. We'll see how it goes, but I really expect great things from him.
“You can tell by just some of the critiques or the things he likes or some of the things that he spots that he likes in you that he is not just a regular coach, he's an offensive line coach because some of those things you don't notice until you have actually coached the offensive line per se. As a head coach or the offensive coordinator, you may not notice the small, minute details about certain positions but he noticed those and I really thought that was special."
DeBord, who has 30 years of coaching experience, watched film on Johnson in his office in anticipation of visiting with the prospect that’s been committed over seven months.
“I was really impressed that he had already gone over that, and he was already showing me stuff that he liked about me on stuff that he’d watched. I was really impressed by that.”
"I'm committed to Tennessee. I feel like that's a contract." —Ryan Johnson
"You know I talk to them,” Johnson said. “I played a game of corn hole with them and didn't work out too well couple times. I'm not the best corn hole player. I'm glad I can block. But, yeah, I talked to them. We got a group picture with them. That was pretty cool. I had a good time. Got to talk to them. I think it went well.”
Alabama (offered), Auburn, Clemson (offered), Mississippi State (offered), Notre Dame, Ohio State and Ole Miss (offered), Stanford and Vanderbilt are all coming after the Volunteer State’s No. 2-rated offensive tackle in the 2016 class.
“I'm committed to Tennessee,” Johnson said. “I feel like that's a contract. I don't feel that's right for me or the coaches at Tennessee or the other coaches to lead people on by doing that. So I don't think that's right."
Recently pushing ahead of Johnson in the rankings is Brentwood Academy teammate Bryce Mathews, who is also a target of the Big Orange…and Johnson.
"I'm still trying to be his friend,” Johnson said of his fellow four-star Eagle. “It would be great if he came and played with me, but at the same time I want to be his friend. I don't want to pressure him into anything. Every once in awhile I will remind him that Tennessee still loves him. But, at the same time, I'll make sure that he's happy where he goes. I don't want to pressure him into anything that he does."
Johnson plans to trip back to Rocky Top several times in the coming months, wearing his recruiter’s hat quite often.
“My goal is to help make us the best recruiting class in the nation,” the nation’s No. 235-rated prospect said. “I want to get the best players, and I definitely want to help that. And I just enjoy being up here. I really enjoy the atmosphere. I want to further my relationship with the coaches and the players.”
Johnson plans to run track for Brentwood Academy this spring, including running the 400-meter dash.