Keyshawn Johnson has High Praise for Strong

The thought of stopping by Austin with his Team 19 7-on-7 squad last weekend never really crossed Keyshawn Johnson’s mind when he began to schedule his team’s yearly trip to some of the top colleges in the country.

And why should it have? The Longhorns historically haven’t showed California the type of love that so many others in and around the state have.

“It definitely wasn’t in our plans,” he told HornsDigest.

But that changed when Charlie Strong and several Texas assistant coaches reached out to him urging him to add ATX to his list of stops, which originally included Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

“Coach Strong and his assistants reached out to us and wanted us to know to come take a look at UT and see what Texas has to offer,” he said. “Don’t just jump over us and go to Oklahoma, Nebraska and A&M when we are right down the street.

“When I initially put it together to stop by Texas, the reason we were going to jump past them was because they haven’t recruited California historically in the past. So I felt there was really no need to go see some school that had no real interest in players from another state. Coach Strong assured me that certainly wasn’t the case with this regime. He’s looking for the best players regardless of where they come from. If they’re in Mars he’s going to get them.”

So the Johnson-led 7-on-7 team, including his son, 2017 star WR Keyshawn Johnson Jr., traveled to College Station on March 6 and then stopped by Austin for a crash course in Longhorns football.

Per Greg Biggins, Scout.com’s West Coast National Recruiting Analyst, the list of attendees were among the better players in California:

Included in this group are 2016 standouts Michael Pittman out of Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian, Calabasas (Calif.) safety Marquel Dismuke, Calabasas (Calif.) safety Isaiah Hayes and Gardena (Calif.) Serra athlete Khalil Tate.

Also visiting will be standout '17 players Johnson from Calabasas (Calif.), Anaheim (Calif.) Servite receiver Terrell Bynum, Newbury Park (Calif.) corner Darnay Holmes, Calabasas (Calif.) corner Jermani Brown and Calabasas (Calif.) quarterback Tristan Gebbia.

All 10 players are BCS level prospects with Pittman (UCLA), Dismuke (California) and Hayes (Boise State) having already committed. Tate is an athletic QB who's getting looks at multiple positions including running back, receiver or safety.

Johnson Jr., has offers from schools all over the country including Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and Ohio State. Bynum is an explosive WR whose stock is really rising fast and Holmes could end up the top player in the state in the class of '17 and is a dynamic playmaker. Gebbia is a good looking QB who project very well and Brown shows up well on both sides of the ball but will likely end up at corner.

“[Strong] and I had the conversation that Texas is a national football program,” Johnson said. “It’s not a regional or a state program. It’s a national football program. Unless you reach out to those kids in California, or any other state, and show an interest they’ll think you have no interest.

“When I give the kids a list of opportunities to go on trips, and what schools they would like to see, were the three schools I said before [Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas A&M] because Texas doesn’t recruit California. I think that will change under Coach Strong.”

The former No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft couldn’t have been more impressed with what he saw from Strong.

“It was the first time I had the opportunity to meet the man and walked away from that place thinking, ‘You know what, not that I didn’t like my coach, but I wish I could have played for him in college,’” he said. “I can drop my kid off with him and be fine.” As for how he thought his son and the other recruits enjoyed their visit, Johnson said they likened it to USC because of the tradition-rich history.

“The kids were all enamored by that,” he said. “[The staff] told us about the plans to renovate the stadium and to build some other new things. That was impressive. They enjoyed their meeting with Coach Strong. The staff had an off day but they came in and familiarized themselves with the kids so they can start to build those relationships with those kids.”

That was a smart move by the Texas staff given how open those recruits are to leaving the West Coast to find the right fit.

“All those kids that were there don’t mind leaving home,” Johnson said. “As I was explaining to Coach Strong, if you are 2.5 hours from California, which I think is the correct flight time, and you are in L.A. then you are in Seattle, Washington. So what’s the difference? If you can go to Seattle, why can’t you go to Texas if you are in LA? If you don’t recruit them they won’t go to Texas. They’ll go to Oklahoma instead.

“My message to him was look at Oklahoma when they were good and this history of their team with California kids. Imagine if you decide to do a little Florida, a little California, a little Louisiana, and a little Texas. You will be up and running in a hurry. He got it. He said it was all new to him because he wasn’t at a Texas-type program before. All these kids are waiting.”

This was such an eye-opening experience for Johnson and his son that the two will be back for Texas’ spring game on April 18. That’s big news considering the disconnect Johnson believed there was between UT and California recruits.

“It definitely is at the top of our list, I can assure you of that,” he said. “They are going to get new facilities. Coach Strong is going to get his own guys. He’s a no-nonsense coach, which I like. He’s a matter-of-fact coach like I like. Those are the things you need to be to be successful. You can’t lie to these kids. Just tell them what it is so they can run through a wall for you. That’s the type of coach Texas needed and they went out and got him.”

Johnson said the trip down for the spring game will include a lot more time touring the campus and the city of Austin. He and his son weren’t able to do much of that this last time due to the cold weather and time crunch with other visits scheduled.

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