Class Act

It doesn't take much imagination to see UT football commitment Austin Johnson playing middle linebacker for the Vols one day; maybe even filing a hole at fullback, H-back, tight end, defensive end or defensive tackle, but it's hard to imagine he won't become a very productive college player.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Hickory, N.C. prospect has too much to offer not to find a place to play, and he plays the game with too much passion and athleticism not to have a positive impact. He's too accomplished as a student — a reported 3.97 GPA and a projected December graduate — to pose an academic risk. He works too hard to ever grow complacent and he's too competitive to back down from a challenge.

If that's not impressive enough to convince you the Vols landed a winner, maybe you'll like the fact he runs a 4.75 time in the 40, bench presses 335 pounds and squats 490.

"I think my strength as a football player is probably having a nose for the ball," he told Inside Tennessee recently. "My mental ability plays a part in that. I can read plays really well. It seems like I know what's coming and I just always seem to be there when I need to be there. I just love the game so it's also the passion for it."

Passion and preparation paid big dividends last season when Johnson recorded 117 stops and six sacks from his middle linebacker post to earn all-district and all-state honors. He received more votes than any other linebacker on the all-state squad. He added another 900 yards offense at fullback where he proved a terror between the tackles and a receiving threat out of the backfield.

"I watch film a lot," Austin affirmed. "My defensive coordinator makes me know pretty much what everybody is doing on every play. So I have to learn all the formations. This year he's actually changed it up where he just calls the base defense for me and when the offense comes out I have to change it to either a run defense or a pass defense, whichever I think will be best for that play. So he's really putting a lot of responsibility on me. I think that's to help prepare me and help our team get better."

Johnson helped Hickory to a 9-4 mark and the state Class-AA playoffs as a junior. He led a remarkable second half comeback, scoring on a 50-yard interception return and a 70-yard screen pass to turn a 30-point deficit into a narrow 43-37 setback. It was the third straight season the Tornadoes made an early post season exit. The senior captain is training hard to make the most of his last shot.

"I wake up about 7:30 and we have football workouts in the weight room at about 10 o'clock," Johnson said. "I lift there and then I leave there and go to the health club and work out with one of my good friends. He's kind of like my personal trainer. He's a guy I've worked out with my whole life. Every other day I do the cardio workout my brother brings home from Wingate. I try to do that with him to prepare me the best I can."

Austin's brother Tyler played linebacker at Hickory and has been voted team captain at Division II Wingate College in North Carolina. A younger brother, Clay, is a junior defensive tackle at Hickory and his youngest brother, Kyle, is a quarterback. His father, Mike, played high school football in Georgia and signed with Kentucky. He eventually transferred to UT-Martin where he played two seasons.

"Tyler wasn't as blessed as I was with the size but he's such a mental player," Austin proudly proclaimed of his older sibling. "He's about 6-2, 210. He was smaller in high school and that's what hurt him when he was recruited."

Johnson has the size to play middle linebacker at UT but he could develop into a defensive lineman or even get a look on offense. He has been chosen to play in the Carolina Shrine Bowl where he may be asked to play H-back.

"No one at Tennessee has really told me that their plans for me are playing defensive end, but I've heard rumors," he said. "Like people said when I get there I'm going to be moved to defensive end. That's just fans and stuff so I really don't know, but whatever fits the team best that's what I will do."

Did we mention Austin Johnson is also unselfish?

Editor's Note: An in-depth feature on Austin Johnson will be in the next issue of Rocky Top News.

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