A Ray of Hope

His name is Ramone Fontaine Johnson, but you can call him Ray, or you can call Ray Ray, or you can call him R.J. You can even called him Fontaine, but you doesn't have to call him Johnson.

He's personable, friendly, glib and gregarious. He's on a first name basis from the get-go wherever he goes, and he makes acquaintances with the same ease he reaps real estate on the gridiron. Put him in front of a stranger and the mammoth man child from the City of Big Shoulders will turn him into a friend. Put him in front of an opponent on the football field and the Fontaine of Truth will turn him into a true believer.

He's the No. 1 prospect in Illinois and the No. 26 offensive lineman in the nation, according to Scout.com. However, the 25 O-linemen ranked ahead of him would have a hard time matching his numbers: 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, 5.0 speed, 380-pound bench press and 560-pound squat.

As a junior at Morgan Park High School, Ramone Johnson posted 52 pancake blocks, earning all-conference and all-city honors for the Mustangs. He's explosive off the ball and tenacious toward his task. In other words, he knows how to start and finish a block with the best of them.

That's why he could well be Tennessee's MVP (Most Valuable Prospect) in the Class of 2006. You see, UT's offensive front loses four starters and greatly needs a freshman to come in and impact the depth chart next fall. Given his size, strength, speed and aggressiveness, Ramone is one of the few that could fill such a role.

The only obstacle is getting the gridiron giant out of The Land of Lincoln.

"I don't have a leader," he said. "I'm just chilling. My top two are Illinois and Tennessee. I'm going to choose between those two schools. I'm going to the University of Illinois this weekend. Tennessee and Illinois are the only schools I'm going to take official visits to."

But those aren't the only schools that have sought out the four-star tackle. Neither are they the only schools he has visited.

"I've taken unofficial visits to Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa, University of Michigan, Notre Dame, University of Southern California," he stated. "Atmosphere is what I'm looking for. Wherever I go I can take care of my business. I don't know about my major yet, that's something I'm deciding."

Ramone was decidedly satisfied by what he saw he in Knoxville last week, when he made his official visit to Tennessee."

"It was all good," he said. "They showed me a nice time. I felt like everybody was cool and I really enjoyed myself. Eric Young was my host. He's from South Carolina. He showed me a nice time."

Ramone acknowledged that east Tennessee is a lot different from south Chicago, but he doesn't see it as a problem adjusting — at least not for now.

"Yeah it's a lot different than Chicago," he said. "But I don't think it's anything to get used to, nothing I see right now. When I get down there it might be a different story. I still feel I can enjoy myself."

He could also make life in a new job easier for Greg Adkins, who took over offensive line coaching duties this year and is also recruiting Ramone.

"I'm not really sure if I'm going to play tackle or guard in college," Ramone explained." Either or would be all right, but I would like to play tackle. That's where I play in high school. My strength is my size and my movement."

He also has the type of mobility in the open field to help restore some much needed athleticism to UT's offensive line. However, despite what seems like a perfect fit, don't expect Ramone to rush his decision.

"I don't have a timeframe for making a decision," he said. "I'm just going to be thinking, and when it comes to me, I'm going to take my time to be sure I'm not rushing into it."

The guy best known as "Ray Ray" doesn't like himself, or his quarterback, to be rushed. And you don't have to call him Johnson.

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