The Butkus Award favorite (honoring nations top LB) is also a Bednarik Award semifinalist (top defensive player overall). Listed as a preseason National Defensive Player of the Year by several publications, Johnson is ESPNs Mel Kiper, Jr.s pick as the top NFL prospect in the April draft.
"I think hes the best defensive player Ive ever been around," Brown said. "He deserves every award that you can get. Hes just an amazing player. In games like (OSU) where were in bad trouble, the whole bunch could have laid down. He could have worried about his Butkus (Award) and all that stuff but he didnt. He just went back to work. I thought that was a magnificent performance under as tough a situation as you could ever be in."
Except for Johnson, no Big 12 athlete this season has repeated the leagues Defensive Player of The Week. In fact, Johnson had twice nabbed the weekly honor before Saturdays historic 56-35 win for his work against Missouri and North Texas. In addition to Johnsons 18 tackles in Texas biggest-ever comeback win Saturday against OSU, he had four tackles that went for no gain as seven of his 14 solo stops went for no yards or negative yards.
Naturally, D.J. was all over the highlight reel that coaches prepare for players during Sundays film session. It may surprise some, however, that the one play where coaches most wanted to call attention to Johnsons effort was actually the play where the Cowboys scored on that screen pass to RB Vernand Morency to take a 14-7 lead. D.J. never gave up on the play and was the only Longhorn chasing down Morency at the goal line.
"We put that play on the highlight film to show thats an All-American," Brown said. "The guy breaks six tackles, hes sprinting, and hes a national sprinter, and Derrick actually catches him, hoping he can catch him at the two-, the three-, the one-yard line. That was the attitude he played with, plus he knifes the sweep for losses in the second half, he gets the option for a loss in the second half and (his play against) the reverse was so impressive because it looked like there was a chance. Thats when the game was over and hes still playing as hard as he can."
Its a general consensus among Orangebloods that Johnson is Texas best linebacker since legendary Tommy Nobis set the standard not only for the position but also for the jersey number (60) from 1963-65. Johnson called Nobis last week when he learned Nobis would be in Austin for the game.
Johnson said he had "heard a lot about Nobis" and "had seen him on tape" a few times but never met him until this weekend.
"We talked about when he was here, reminiscing, and things like that," Johnson said.
What was Nobis assessment of Johnson?
"He said I was a little faster and a little bigger," Johnson laughed.
Johnson told me two years ago that he preferred not to wear the number 60 because of the added pressure it would place on any Texas linebacker. He reiterated that sentiment Monday, adding "I dont want that kind of distraction on my game." However, Johnson hasnt ruled out the possibility of wearing the number in the bowl game as a way to honor Nobis.
"I really havent thought about it," Johnson said. "Right now, all of my thoughts are on Kansas. Right now, Im wearing No. 11 on my last game (against Texas A&M on Nov. 26).
Its one of those sun-splashed, 75-degree November afternoons that make you happy to be alive in Austin and Im walking across the UT campus with Derrick Johnson. I suggest, more empathetically than suggestively, that its too beautiful of a day to spend in class. But Johnson is on his way to his favorite classroom, the third grade class at nearby Metz Elementary School, where he spends Monday afternoons reading to youngsters and helping them with homework.
"I try to arrange my schedule so I can volunteer at the schools," he said. After that, hell head home to "play some video games, do some homework and chill out."
The volunteer work Johnson performs on Monday is obviously overshadowed by his performances on Saturday, but it has been part of his weekly commitment since arriving at the Forty Acres. Its not required for course credit; Johnson is in this Monday classroom because he loves it.
"I love the kids, I love the kids," he says, before patting me on the back and dashing off to catch a city bus. It will transport him, of course, to a group of third-graders eagerly awaiting not just a football MVP but someone who values them enough to arrange his schedule around them -- even on a day like today.