Johnson: Never Wavered On Return

Junior All-American linebacker <B>Derrick Johnson</B> will return to Texas for his senior year, he announced during a Thursday press conference at Bellmont Hall.

The Butkus Award Finalist said he never wavered from his season-long stance that he would likely return for his fourth season. Johnson is the latest Longhorn to defer NFL millions to return for one more campaign, citing the opportunity to improve his game and the overall "family atmosphere" of the UT program as reasons for his decision.

"Coach Brown is like a father away from home," Johnson said. "He’s someone I know I can always go to if I’m in trouble."

Most of all, it was important to his family that he complete his degree at Texas.

Neither a bittersweet 10-3 season nor Tuesday’s resignation of defensive coordinator Carl Reese factored into his decision, Johnson said. When asked if he was surprised by Reese’s announcement, Johnson replied: "I was surprised that he was 60-years old. He’s more like a 20-year old, the way he ran around with us out there."

The two-time first team All-Big 12 selection said he never consulted NFL scouts or agents to determine his draft status (Brown previously said coaches do that on behalf on players). However, he conferred with San Diego Charger RB LaDainian Tomlinson and former Longhorn Quentin Jammer while in California for the Holiday Bowl who told him "you have to make a decision that’s right for you" while suggesting that he complete his eligibility at Texas.

Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL Draft. Johnson said he did not know what RB Cedric Benson’s decision will be (although Benson hinted before the Holiday Bowl that he would return). For now, head coach Mack Brown is delighted with Johnson’s decision.

"We’re obviously thrilled that Derrick has decided to return for his senior year," Brown said. "He is already one of the best linebackers in Texas history, and one more year will put him in a category in which few have ever been before. He has been a big part of our Longhorn family and he has gotten better and better each year. He’s certainly one of the best players I’ve ever been around, and he is a great example of what a student-athlete should be off the field as well."

Johnson cited unfinished business at Texas, including a championship ring. He expects the defense to be improved next season. At the very least, Johnson will anchor what should be one of Texas’ fiercest linebacking crews in recent memory, along with a pair of hard-hitting Aaron Harris and Garnet Smith (lost to injury during the first game of the 2003 season).

Johnson was Texas’ leading tackler with 116 (75 solo) and also led the Horns in TFL (18), most games with 10-plus tackles (7) and fumble recoveries (3). He finished second on Texas’ defense with four INT and 8 PBU.

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