Iowa State has quietly been compiling talent at receiver in recent years, and could feature one of the most underrated WR corps in the Big 12 next season. The Cyclones added to that talent pool by signing three-star WR recruit Denver Johnson out of Oklahoma City.
As part of our summer Q&A series with several incoming Big 12 recruits, Johnson spoke with ESPN.com about his relationship with offensive coaches Mark Mangino and Tommy Mangino, the potential of the Iowa State WR corps, and his multiple family connections to the school:
Why did you commit to Iowa State, and when other schools came after you late, why did you stick with the Cyclones?
Johnson: Well, mainly, on my visit, I fell in love with the campus and the facilities and the coaching staff. It felt like home. And then, I was in love with the atmosphere. I had a really good relationship with all the players there. I decided to make my commitment then. Of course my cousin Carson Epps out of Jenks (Oklahoma), he committed then too. That just helped solidify my decision.
What players did you hit it off with up there?
You mention Bundrage and Lazard. Bundrage was third in the league in TD catches two years ago; Lazard was one of the top true freshmen in the league last season. You excited about the future of the receiving corps?
Johnson: Absolutely. I’m excited to get up there and learn from them and soak it all in and fit into the rotation. And be part of a dominating receiving corps.
What have your impressions been of the Manginos, Mark (offensive coordinator) and Tommy (WR coach)?
Johnson: They’re not only great coaches, but great men. I’m excited to learn from them and soak it all in. I know they really care about their players. They’re not going to sugarcoat anything, either. So I really like that about them, because that’s how I’ve been coached my entire life. Straight to the point. The best are going to play. They’re not going to take it easy on me. They want to make me the best player I can be.
As for them not sugarcoating anything, what have they told you about a potential role this season or possibly redshirting?
Johnson: Something Coach Mangino has said repeatedly, Mark Mangino, is that he believes I can come in and play an immediate role. But he’s not making any promises in regards to playing time. The quote he gave me was, what I do now will play a huge role in what I do in August. That just motivates me and my training and my preparation for college ball.
You come from a small private school in Oklahoma City. What would your reply be to those who might say it's going to take you awhile to adjust to the talent level in the Big 12?
Johnson: There’s great competition in the SPC (Southwest Preparatory Conference). I’m excited to play in a great conference like the Big 12. But I’ve gone against people all across the country (in camps) and I’m confident in my abilities and talents to be able to compete in the Big 12, as well, just like I did in the SPC.
How would you describe your game? What would you say is the one thing you do well, and the one area you need to improve?
Johnson: I’m a big-play receiver. I try to use my frame, my weight and my size and arm length to make big catches over smaller defensive backs. Somewhere I could improve, the intangibles, of course, but a personal goal I’m working to improve is my speed. I run a 4.52 (in the 40-yard dash) right now. I’m trying to get down to a 4.4 by the time the summer ends going into camp.
What has your impression been of coach Paul Rhoads?
Johnson: He’s a great guy. My cousin (former starting Iowa State cornerback Jeremy Reeves) graduated and played football for him. He had no complaints. He said he was a guy who was really passionate about the game and cared a lot about his players. So I’m excited to get down there and let our relationship grow as well.
What have been your thoughts on Ames?
Johnson: It’s a great college town. There are no professional sports teams in Iowa. Either you’re a Hawkeye fan or a Cyclone fan. It’s what they’ve got. So they really buy into the whole Cyclone Nation thing. They love college football.