The No. 1 player in Florida already knew Kirby Smart had big plans for UGA back in January.
Tyreke Johnson, who is also rated as the nation’s No. 10 overall player for 2018, said Smart got in contact with him shortly after taking the job. Johnson said he was impressed with Smart’s defensive mind and could already see himself playing for him at Georgia.
At that time, he ranked Georgia only behind UCLA and Stanford and right with Notre Dame as his top schools. UCLA and Georgia were recruiting him the hardest then. Smart made sure Johnson heard from Georgia early.
“He told me what all coaches tell you but then he said he wanted me to play for him and that if I came, he’d make sure I’d be one of the best players to come out of Georgia.”
Johnson had UGA shorts and a UCLA backpack on at the Cam Newton 7-on-7 event last week. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
That was how Johnson felt then. There are even more pro-Georgia things on Johnson’s mind right now. It goes deeper than the fact he wore a pair of UGA shorts to Cam Newton‘s Memorial Day 7-on-7 tournament last week.
Johnson already knows he will enroll early in 2018. He said “without a doubt” that UGA will get one of his official visits.
“Because Georgia is Georgia and I also want to give a shot to playing in college with my boys,” Johnson said.
That “boys” designation starts with a genuine relationship with UGA uber-recruiter Richard LeCounte III. LeCounte, who will always be Smart’s first UGA commitment, will definitley factor in his decision.
He said he’s known the Liberty County (Hinesville, Ga.) star since he was in the sixth grade. Johnson said the two have a symbiotic relationship like “siamese twins” when they line up in the same secondary together at 7-on-7 events.
“We have this unspoken bond and can read one another’s mind,” Johnson said. “We think the exact same way and don’t have to say a thing. He’ll be at safety and I’ll be at corner and we don’t have to even say anything to know which one is going to go for the pick. I’ll see him and his hand go up or I’ll do something and we will just know. One of us will check the receiver while the other goes for the pick. We are like twins on the field.”
The Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) native got noticed by UGA at Dawg Night back in 2013 after he completed eighth grade. He got an offer from UGA then along with Thomson cornerback Christian Tutt. Tutt has strong ties to UGA and is rated as the nation’s No. 4 cornerback for 2018.
Johnson, who just was cleared from winter surgery to repair a torn labrum, has ideal size and length. He ran receiver routes on the side at last week’s Cam Netwon 7-on-7 event. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
“Tutt was playing on the inside and I was playing on the outside and we won every rep we lined up together,” Johnson said. “We were also offered together by Coach (Mark) Richt.”
Johnson is rated as an athlete and as the nation’s No. 2 safety for 2018 but made it clear his position will be cornerback “all the way” in his career.
“My game is as a physical defensive back who can also play technique and switch it up,” Johnson said. “I’m very versatile. I play smart but have the recovery speed and always put myself in the right position and back it up by being a very long ‘DB’ on the field.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder just got cleared from labrum surgery he had in February. That cleaned up an injury he suffered back in eighth grade. He plans to make his college decision after his junior season.
The junior would like to double major in business and finance with the hopes of owning a real estate company.
“I was watching a celebrity realtors show and that’s just easy money,” Johnson told SEC Country while discussing his interest in Alabama. “All you do is just show people houses that are already made and call people to get it done? Easy.”
Johnson said he has a 3.8 grade-point average and he’s looking for academics first, then a place to play right away.
“I don’t want to be a guy that redshirts because I feel like that is a waste of time,” Johnson said. “I want to be out there right away and contribute. I’m also not looking for a place where I would have the most fun. I want to be all about that degree and getting to the league.”
As a 2018 recruit, the UGA staff can’t reach out to him much yet per NCAA rules. The last communication he had was earlier this spring.
Johnson is a fine all-around athlete. He practiced punting and kicking field goals at the Cam Newton event last week. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Johnson felt that UCLA was the program he hears the most from at this time. So what’s the best way to ascertain just how much UGA wants him?
“Ask Richard LeCounte,” Johnson said. “Richard just tells me like ‘Come on, man. We need one more defensive back and we are locking it down. We just need one more defensive back with us and we want that to be you in there with all of us one day.'”
LeCounte even made UGA’s pitch in an even more direct fashion.
“That’s really like my brother,” Johnson said. “We just kick it like homeboys because he stays about 45 minutes away from me. He tells me like ‘Man, when are you going to stop playing and become a dog? He’s like you know we only take ‘Dogs’ and so if you don’t come I am going to say then you are not a dog.'”
Let’s add a little context here. The term ‘dog’ as it was used in this fashion is meant to describe a top-level and alpha-male player on the fast track to the NFL. It is a compliment of the highest order and likely would best be pronounced as “Dawg” to convey the proper meaning. A deep voice also would best convey the inflection, too.
But — like a true corner — Johnson made sure to jam LeCounte’s psychological pitch off the line.
“I told him that I am going to be a ‘Dog’ anywhere I go and that’s why you guys want me because Georgia only recruits the big dogs,” Johnson said.
Johnson can check off a lot of reasons why he might choose UGA.
“That’s a school I’ve always loved with Mark Richt and all those guys there,” Johnson said. “I just feel like their defensive backs are always trained for the league and they do a great job of getting their players NFL-ready at Georgia.”
The schools from his home state have little-to-no chance of signing him. Johnson told DawgNation that “without a doubt” he would leave the state of Florida to play college football.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.