Brown: Derrick Johnson Is Country's MVP

Should a linebacker be a Heisman candidate this season? Only if he’s Texas WLB Derrick Johnson, named Monday as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week for his career-best 18 stops against Oklahoma State. D.J won’t be in New York next month but Coach Mack Brown said the All-American is the country’s Most Valuable Player.

"Our defense is so young and we didn’t even know if they were going to be any good or not," Brown said. "I think his attitude, the toughness he’s shown and the work ethic he’s shown, has changed our whole defense. We give credit to coaches, and our coaches do a good job, but kids have to change it. Coaches don’t change it; coaches can try to help kids change it. Derrick has grown up. He’s a man out there now. He used to be an athlete that played really good; now, he takes over. I just think he’s a Most Valuable Player across the country. Whatever award they should consider him for, he should get."

The Butkus Award favorite (honoring nation’s 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 ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr.’s pick as the top NFL prospect in the April draft.

"I think he’s the best defensive player I’ve ever been around," Brown said. "He deserves every award that you can get. He’s just an amazing player. In games like (OSU) where we’re in bad trouble, the whole bunch could have laid down. He could have worried about his Butkus (Award) and all that stuff but he didn’t. 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 league’s Defensive Player of The Week. In fact, Johnson had twice nabbed the weekly honor before Saturday’s historic 56-35 win for his work against Missouri and North Texas. In addition to Johnson’s 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 Sunday’s film session. It may surprise some, however, that the one play where coaches most wanted to call attention to Johnson’s effort was actually the play where the Cowboy’s 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 that’s an All-American," Brown said. "The guy breaks six tackles, he’s sprinting, and he’s 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. That’s when the game was over and he’s still playing as hard as he can."

It’s 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 don’t want that kind of distraction on my game." However, Johnson hasn’t ruled out the possibility of wearing the number in the bowl game as a way to honor Nobis.

"I really haven’t thought about it," Johnson said. "Right now, all of my thoughts are on Kansas. Right now, I’m wearing No. 11 on my last game (against Texas A&M on Nov. 26).



It’s one of those sun-splashed, 75-degree November afternoons that make you happy to be alive in Austin and I’m walking across the UT campus with Derrick Johnson. I suggest, more empathetically than suggestively, that it’s 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, he’ll 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. It’s 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.

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