Elite TE target Theo Johnson still thinking hard about a potential fit in Athens
Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. The play sheet here is a chance to inform DawgNation about the best Canadian tight end prospect the Bulldogs have ever recruited in 4-star Theo Johnson.
Arik Gilbert. Darnell Washington. Theo Johnson.
After seeing those names up close at The Opening this month, it was clear to see that those guys stand shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of ability and potential.
Gilbert and Washington are the 5-star recruits, but Johnson has seen his stock soar of late. He is now the nation’s No. 2 TE and No. 105 overall recruit for 247Sports.
This tweet from Opening personnel director Ronny Torres details the ability of Georgia’s top three tight end options for the 2020 cycle.
Ridiculous testing numbers from all four during @TheOpening testing…
MM • 6-5, 234; 4.84 40, 4.29 SH, 101.40 Rating
AG • 6-5, 253; 4.73 40, 48’ PB, 118.35 Rating
DW • 6-7.5, 261; 4.75 40, 51’ PB, 114.24 Rating
TJ • 6-5.5, 224; 4.63 40, 4.28 SH, 34.6” VJ, 109.32 Rating
— Ronny Torres (@RonnyTorresSS) July 8, 2019
With these three 2020 targets, the term “flex end” applies. They all have the size to tangle with defensive ends and OLBs in the run game. But they also wield the agility, length and size to overpower safeties and ‘backers in the passing game by flexing out wide.
Johnson is down to four schools: Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and Penn State. The No. 1 player from Canada this cycle hails from Windsor in Ontario.
But he has no idea right now with his decision. If he could, this thing would have been done by July’s fireworks. It has grown tiring and he shared a good story for what he’s been going through.
There was that one time he was chatting with a coach, but he had to let him go to study for an exam.
“The next thing you know everyone on staff is texting me saying ‘Hey good luck’ and I’m like that’s not helping me,” Johnson said at The Opening. “Like, I know you are wishing me good luck but that’s not going to help me or make me stay focused.”
The things to remember about Theo Johnson
His father, Nathaniel Johnson, was a receiver in the NFL and the Canadian Football League. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980.
He logged one season with the New York Giants in 1980 and went on to catch 64 catches for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns across three ensuing seasons in the CFL.
Johnson begged his mother, Amy, for years to play. She relented when he was seven years old. Johnson played up in a league with his older brother. He was much bigger than kids his age, but the 7-year-old rookie still earned the league MVP trophy that season.
“It is a weird feeling to describe but it clicked right away,” Theo Johnson said.
He wraps his life around his family. There’s just his mother and five brothers. One of his two older brothers plays football at Buffalo. He has three younger brothers.
They are all “super close.”
“For my spring break, everybody in my high school was out in the Dominican Republic and Punta Cana,” he said. “But I decided I wanted to visit colleges. I brought all of my little brothers with me. I just wanted to be able to show them that when you work hard and follow your dreams, then this is what you can achieve.”
He aspires to set a path for them.
“I just want them to know they deserve everything that’s coming for them, too,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot together but I’m definitely a big family man. For sure.”
Ann Arbor is 50 minutes away. Does that lend an eventual edge to the Michigan Wolverines?
“Close to home or far from home is really not a deal-maker or a deal-breaker for me,” he said. “It is really all about where I feel the most comfortable at.”
Johnson expanded on that. Did he ever.
Maybe Al Pacino had better lines for speech time in “Any Given Sunday.” Maybe.
“College is really about how much are you willing to sacrifice for four years for your success the rest of your life,” he said. “I can help my family out the most by making the best decision for me for the next four years. Not choosing a pretty good fit that is closer to home than a school I really like.”
“That’s what separates people from being really great and just average. How much are you willing to sacrifice? Some guys go off and get distracted. But coming from Canada I haven’t been recruited for years like some of these guys. I’m there to work. I’ve already been doubted. A lot. I know what I have got to do to get where I want to go. I’ve got to keep busting my tail. That’s not the case with some of these guys who have been getting recruited since the ninth grade and feel they deserve to be at the big elite school.”
“I’ve always been at the bottom. I’ve always been fighting through everybody to get to the top. I know I might have to sacrifice not being close to my family. But I know it will set my life up for success for a very long time. How much are we all willing to sacrifice? I know I’m willing to sacrifice a whole lot here.”
There will be a lot more to read here about Johnson. A lot of the quick-hit details which will shape his decision are coming up next.
But nothing here will define this young man any better than that.
The DawgNation quick-hits on Theo Johnson
Georgia is suffering from a stiff case of tight end bleed. It lost Isaac Nauta and Jackson Harris after the 2018 season. Charlie Woerner and grad transfer Eli Wolf are also set to exhaust their NCAA window this fall.
It will leave redshirt freshman John FitzPatrick and true freshmen Ryland Goede and Brett Seither on scholarship in the tight end room for Todd Hartley.
Here are the Tetris pieces for Johnson at this time:
- He expects to visit Penn State this weekend for its cookout. He considered a few options, including Georgia and also considered not going anywhere.
- Look for Johnson to figure out this puzzle by taking some rapid-fire visits in the fall. He does plan to graduate early and enroll at his choice in January of 2020.
- His UGA official will be for the Notre Dame game. That is locked in for Sept. 21 and has been since early spring.
- Michigan at Penn State is another locked-in official for Oct. 19. He could also take an unofficial to Iowa for the Michigan game. But that is tentative. He has already taken his official to Iowa.
- Notre Dame at Michigan is also likely. Just not certain. Johnson, like most recruits, doesn’t see the need in using an official for a trip that can be covered by car in less than an hour.
- Johnson feels the most “pull” to a school right after visits. He is even thinking “this could be the move” and that holds until his next visit or another school choice creeps in.
- What lingers here about his G-Day trip? “My lasting memory of G-Day is just spending time with the other recruits and really liking that lounge before the game. That’s really the one thing I will take away from G-Day. Just spending time with all the other top players from all around. That was a really great experience for me.”
- A part of the UGA pitch is the “iron sharpens iron” mantra. Especially for a tight end who will practice each day against Georgia’s constellation of OLBs. “It would definitely be good to know that I’d be playing against the best day-in and day-out,” he said.
- Johnson has been thinking about “early October” as his finish line for a long time. It still does not seem like he’s ready to make a move anytime soon.
- Johnson will watch his core teams closely to see if they follow through on wanting to do more with their TEs in 2019. (We’ve written that before, huh?)
- Penn State has been recruiting him for a long time. He knows a few of the Nittany Lions and that program even has a few Canadians on the team.
- The relationships he has built with all of the tight ends coaches are big. He’s comfortable with all four of those potential mentors.
— Ronny Torres (@RonnyTorresSS) July 19, 2019
His 247Sports rating moved from No. 243 to No. 72 after his impressive work at The Opening.
— KPS (@KINGPERFORMANCE) July 22, 2019
He may not know where he’s going yet, but the mindset he carries is going to take him quite a long way in the game. And then even father beyond that.
Canadian high school football and Theo Johnson
He hails from Canada. That’s a UGA recruiting oddity.
His high school plays Canadian rules, but he lives 15 minutes away from Detroit. His squad will play a couple of exhibition games every fall in the United States. Those go by American rules.
His regular season is all Canadian football rules.
“The end zones are bigger,” Johnson said. “So if we throw a pass from the 10-yard line going into the back of the end zone, then that is still a 30-yard pass.”
- 110-yard fields, including 20-yard end zones
- Goalposts at the front of end zones.
- 3 downs. Not 4.
- (Multiple) players in motion toward the line of scrimmage at the snap
It didn’t affect his development, though. His initial offers came off what recruiters saw on film. Not his high school game tape. He also tested as if his legs belonged inside a pogo stick.
100” reach touching 143” (11’11”)… I’ll let y’all do the math🤷🏽♂️🛫 pic.twitter.com/8nT5JuGyjh
— Theo Johnson🇨🇦 (@Theo_Johnson85) June 21, 2019
Breaking down what Theo Johnson can do
“I’m a receiver that’s built like a tight end,” Johnson told DawgNation. “Yeah. For sure. Because at my high school I play mostly receiver.”
Johnson built his development as a receiver but knew college football recruits from Canada are a rarity.
That set his camp strategy. He was already big. The feeling among his high school coaches was he was going to move to tight end eventually in college. Just based on his size.
Everyone just sped up that timetable. He even had some film going in-line as a tight end instead of always being flexed out. When he camped, he was at tight end. The speed and athleticism immediately flashed.
He has a good mind for the game. His favorite red zone route is the fade. Aside from that, he likes a clever dig route.
“Especially when they are playing inside, there’s just something about beating a man inside that is kind of satisfying,” he said. “Because you have to be super creative with how you beat him. So I like digs with the creativity aspect of how you have to beat a man inside.”
He is totally into nature documentaries of all types. He will likely pursue a major in biology, marine biology or some field related to Environmental Studies.
— KPS (@KINGPERFORMANCE) July 2, 2019
His favorite part of the game is just that “crazy bond” that gels amid a team.
“You line up in that fourth quarter and you look down the line and you know you can just trust that guy right next to you,” Johnson said. “That’s because you have built that bond. Everyone is sacrificing for one common goal. That just always has to be my favorite thing. The relationships you build with those guys around you that you then go out and win with.”
How Georgia assistant Todd Hartley met Theo Johnson
Georgia was involved with Johnson as soon as it hired Todd Hartley. They met in June of 2018 when Johnson flew down to a Miami camp. The introduction was right after his broad jump testing.
“I went out and jumped a 10’1″ or something like that,” Johnson said.
It was far better than a look in the eye and a firm handshake. Hartley asked his name and said it was nice to meet him. He let him know he coached the tight ends for Miami.
“We’ve been consistently talking since then,” Johnson said. “Even when he was out of a job we were still talking on a regular basis and he said ‘where ever I end up I’m going to recruit you because I like the type of guy you are and you are a hell of a player and I want to coach you wherever I wind up’ and for a while I wasn’t sure where he would end up.”
Hartley had a hunch he would get hired by Georgia. He shared it with Johnson before he got the job.
“He came to my school the first week during the recruiting period after that and he let my coach know I had an offer from Georgia,” Johnson said.
Hartley is a big reason why the Bulldogs are in his final 4.
“I feel really good about Georgia,” Johnson said. “I first visited over my spring break and it was a good visit. Basically, it was coach Hartley showing us around. No one on campus. Not a lot of the staff. It was cool to see the facilities in person but I didn’t get to see much of anything because nobody was on campus.”
That all changed for his second trip. That was G-Day.
“I just really liked a lot of what I saw,” he said. “The campus. The city in general. The overall environment with the team.”
He felt it was a different experience to see the campus alive with classes back in session.
“The big thing for me was seeing what all the people were like,” he said. “I got to meet all the guys on the team and the recruits like me who were thinking about coming. I really liked Ryland (Goede), John (FitzPatrick) and Charlie (Woerner) and all the guys in the tight end room.”
His mother noted the academic weight of the UGA degree, too. But he left with a genuine feel for the current team, potential signees and the staff.
“That was the thing about the visit I cherished the most,” he said.
Let’s come back to those three names: Arik Gilbert. Darnell Washington. Theo Johnson.
He knows UGA would ideally take two out of those three guys. Connecticut 3-star TE Cam Large is also in the mix. Will the Bulldogs accept the first two that wish to commit and call it a class?
“Coach Hartley would tell me when things are kind of really heating up with somebody,” Johnson said. “I’d be lying to you if I said that’s something that I don’t think about. I definitely think about what’s going on with them. Because I know they are recruiting them just as hard as they are recruiting me. That’s something I am definitely keeping in the back of my mind with Georgia.”
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