Linebacker Johnson Mulling NFL Choice

All-American WLB <B>Derrick Johnson </B>said Tuesday that he didn&#146;t know if he&#146;ll return to Texas for his final season of eligibility. SE <B>Roy Williams</B>, faced with the same choice last year, is already convinced of Johnson&#146;s decision.

"I think he’s going to stay," Williams said. "He told the media last year that he was going to stay."

Johnson, however, said Tuesday that he has much to consider and will devote the two-week interim between the Holiday Bowl and the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft to arrive at an informed choice. He has not conferred either with NFL scouts or agents, he said, although "They call. They call and call. They call a lot. I try not to pick up my phone."

He also says he does not closely follow NFL projections regarding his draft status.

"You hear stuff," he said. "Whether it’s Top 10 or Top 15, you don’t know about that but a lot of people are saying first round, but I really don’t know."

This much we know: money’s got little to do with it, Johnson said. This time, it’s personal. He said he will make his decision only after consulting his mother and brother following the Dec. 30 bowl.

"The way I look at it is, did I accomplish everything I needed to accomplish at The University of Texas," he said, "because when I get there (NFL) I want to be on top of my game. I’ve made a lot of them (accomplishments), but I really don’t know. That’s why I’m going to make the decision after the bowl. I really don’t know if I’ve accomplished everything."

Johnson admits he can still improve his game at the collegiate level, particularly by learning to take better angles on the ball as well as fending off blocks.

"Sometimes I do (these things) and sometimes I don’t," he said, "and when I don’t it’s a big bust. If I can get more fundamentals on the field, I’ll be even better."

The fact that his trip to Orlando last weekend did not include the Butkus Award as a souvenir could influence his return. The trophy went to Oklahoma senior Teddy Lehman.

"It’s a little disappointing but, then again, you’re happy for the person who got it," he said.

Williams, however, believes the outcome bothered Johnson more than the junior has revealed. What’s more, the disappointment may be incentive enough for Johnson to return for his senior season.

"He really wanted to win the Butkus," Williams said. "That goal fell a little short for him. In my opinion, I think he’s going to stay because he wants to get better and he wants to show that he’s the best linebacker and that he should be on more All-American teams than just one or two."

How about two or three? Johnson is the first Texas linebacker to be named first-team AP All-American in 20 years and was Texas’ first Butkus Award Finalist. He was also selected first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

For good reason: the two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection leads the Horns with 116 tackles (75 solo), including 18 TFL (the second most by a LB in school history). Johnson has registered three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, two sacks and nine QB pressures. His four INT this season are tied for second-most nationally among linebackers and trails only senior CB Nathan Vasher’s team-leading six picks.

"I would like for him to stay, but I’m selfish like that," Vasher said.

Johnson is well aware that Texas has a recent history of talented athletes (Quentin Jammer, Ricky Williams, Roy Williams) who kept NFL franchises waiting until after they completed their eligibility.

"Being around Texas football is a different kind of feeling," Johnson said. "You don’t want to leave that feeling."

For Johnson, this month’s schedule is simple but not easy: spend two weeks preparing for Washington State and then devote up to two weeks making a significant career choice.

"After the bowl game I’ll have a lot of time to sit down with my family and lay everything out," he said, "but whatever I decide, it’s going to be great."


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