Monday, January 2, 2012
A real catch
By Jamie Newberg
ESPN Recruiting Nation
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One player that has been talk of the Under Armour All-America Game is four-star wide receiver and Texas commitment Thomas Johnson of Dallas Skyline. Johnson has been working in the slot during the first two days of practices and has been virtually unstoppable.
"I did well today," Johnson said following Monday's practices. "I didn't do as much as I wanted to. I was limited with my hip. I have a hip flexor issue. I couldn't kick it in gear today and hit my top end speed. I just need a little rest and ice."
That's what makes this 6-foot, 183-pounder so unique. He has better size than most slot receivers and he's so dynamic with the ball in his hands -- even when he's banged up.
"I have explosion," Johnson said. "I catch the ball really well and run good routes. I take pride in that. I can also get yards after the catch."
His position coach for the game, Jeff Weachter from Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt High School, has seen his share of recruits in his day. He says Johnson has been wonderful to coach this week and is quite the player.
"T.J. is doing a great job so far," Weachter said. "What I love about him is that he's so coachable. He's has great size for a slot guy. I am so impressed with his quickness, how he gets off the line, and his routes are crisp. He's been a joy to coach and has a very bright future."
Johnson had a very productive senior campaign with 50 receptions for 1,077 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also scored four times on the ground. The nation's No. 4-ranked receiver credits his coaches back home in helping him craft his game.
"Honestly, my Skyline coaches know a lot, and I owe a lot to those coaches," Johnson said. "They have taught me so much. I learned from the best. And the coaching I am getting here is just terrific."
Johnson has been a nightmare for the aggressive defensive backs at the Under Armour All-America Game, especially with the way he gets off press coverage and runs his routes. Then, with the ball in the open field, he's tough to catch. But there is one player that has made things tough for Johnson.
"That Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown) is something else," Johnson said. "He's so strong, so big, so physical, and so fast. That's the only dude that causes problems for me that's here. Once he gets his hands on you it's over. He's unbelievable."
Fortunately for Johnson, he only has to deal with Collins for one more practice. But he has plenty of teammates here that will join him in Austin, including quarterback Connor Brewer (Scottsdale,
Ariz./Chapparal) and wide receiver Cayleb Jones (Austin, Texas/ S.F. Austin).
"Working here with Connor and Cayleb gives us time to work together and get it going," Johnson said. "Texas is getting a great quarterback in Connor. They are getting a big outside receiver in Cayleb that can do a lot of things. With me, I hope to give that offense some explosiveness and big-play ability. When we get to Austin we will have some familiarity together."
Committing to Mack Brown and the Longhorns was a no-brainer for Johnson. Texas offered in February, he went to a Junior Day in Austin, and gave Brown and the Texas staff his pledge shortly after.
"I just have always loved the atmosphere at Texas," Johnson said. "It's such a great school with academics. The team and program are exceptional. Once I got that offer there wasn't too much to think about."
Now Johnson is thinking about his future and what he can bring to Texas this fall.
"You know I want to make the biggest impact I possibly can," Johnson said. "I will be ready."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.