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Jeff Sentell/DawgNation
The decison for Theo Johnson has not gotten any easier over the last six weeks.

Theo Johnson: The pause button, the reasons why and what’s next for the elite TE

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. The play sheet today calls for a dive into how elite TE prospect Theo Johnson currently feels about with his eventual decision. 

Theo Johnson knows all this recruiting stuff. Maybe too well.

He knows it is more than all the flashy facilities. Gear galore. The outpouring of love from jubilant cathedral-ish stadiums. Throw in won-loss records and every rating point of TV exposure.

The nation’s No. 3 TE for 2020 (247Sports Composite) knows he needs the right system. The right coaches. He meshes well with the present and future QBs for his finalists. He knows that’s another big part of the right atmosphere to prepare him. It will tap his clear Sunday potential. His father played in the NFL. Johnson certainly has those tools, too.

The top player in Canada knows every school will have hard-working teammates he will come to know like brothers. He knows each campus is home to pretty girls and coaches who say things that will sound sweeter than a free daily snowblower service in his native Ontario.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder even knows he can turn a Georgia or Iowa or Michigan or Penn State offer into his NFL lotto ticket. He even knows the decision about whether he makes it will be up to him once he enrolls and begins his Saturday grind.

Yet he still wants to make the best decision. And that is why he still does not know where he wants to play college ball. He will not make his college decision known on Monday. That news was reported by several outlets, including 247Sports.

Theo Johnson-Georgia recruiting-UGA recruiting
Theo Johnson is really trying to sort out his college decision right now. It is just hard. Very very hard. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

“I’m just trying to do whatever feels right and right now that’s why I have decided to postpone my decision,” Theo Johnson said last week.

This matter, he says, has weighed on him for some time. He reads the articles. Sees the comments.

When he does, it leads to stress below those thick Canadian curls. Most people don’t understand the burden some prospects feel.

“I’ve thought about this every single hour of the day for the last two and a half years,” Johnson said. “I thought about this at least every single day.”

“I can’t focus. I will try and think of something else and I just can’t because I just know how much of an impact this decision is going to have on my whole life. I just can’t not think about it. It has been really very taxing on me. The one thing that kind of takes my mind off of things is playing football and working out and doing stuff like that. But when I am just sitting around in class or something it is pretty tough. It is very hard and it has definitely been rough.”

Johnson took his official visit to Michigan this weekend. Ann Arbor is only about 50 minutes away, but that’s oddly the place his younger brothers had not seen prior to that trip.

When that visit wraps, he will try not to think about his recruiting for a good five days or so. The keyword there will be TRY.

 

Theo Johnson: Any more officials? Still thinking ‘Bama? 

There will be no set commitment dates or targets going forward.

“I won’t be setting any more dates until I know for sure what I am going to be doing,” he said. “I’m not rushing it. There’s a difference between like thinking about it daily. Just thinking about it. Like I think about all of this every day.”

“But there’s a big difference between that and really sitting down and thinking about it all the factors and stuff. So I’m not going to be doing any of that thinking for a little bit. Just to give my self a break. Then about a week after that Michigan visit, I will start really thinking about things again.”

When the decision comes after that break or over the last part of that month, it comes.

Back in September, he thought he might give Alabama a final official visit. He now doesn’t see the logic in adding any more to the 500 pounds of weight that it already feels like is on his shoulders. Not with another big-time team like the Tide.

“This one to Michigan is my last official,” he said last week.

He doesn’t see a way with his early enrollment to draw things out for a decision release at the Under Armour All-American Game.

“I see in my brain like December 18th being the latest date,” he said. “But at the same time, if you asked me when I was going to commit last year, I would have said October of this year. As the process has gone on, I have slowly backed it up so I don’t really know for sure what is going to happen.”

Theo Johnson-UGA recruiting-Georgia recruiting
Check out this far end zone shot from Georgia-Notre Dame earlier this year. Theo Johnson’s expression clearly conveys his mood, along with other UGA recruiting targets like Carson Beck, Noah Sewell and Darnell Washington. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Theo Johnson: How he still feels about Georgia

This section won’t detail the conversation recently Theo had with his mother, Amy, that turned this highly impressive Hayes Fawcett edit into a non-starter. It was a great edit. They all loved it. It was just that it was no longer relevant.

He was going to have to put that Nov. 18 commitment plan back on ice.

That discussion was insightful. But not right now at this part of the page.

Here’s what matters to the DawgNation reader: Why would he choose UGA? Why not?

There is a clear yin and yang there. Here’s the big plus with UGA:

“It is just a lot different than the other schools that I have visited,” he said. “It is just a lot different down south. For me, it was a totally different experience from the other schools I visited. The feelings and experiences I had at Georgia just still kind of stick out in my mind.”

He had a really good official visit experience. Every time he’s been to UGA, he has enjoyed himself. That has held up with his great experiences at Penn State and its great “White Out” win earlier this year.

“I just really liked the overall feel of down south,” he said. “I just really liked it down there.”

And then there’s the but.

“I know that they haven’t been able to do certain things with the tight ends,” Johnson said. “Because they don’t have the personnel right now and stuff. I just think the big thing with Georgia right now is certain schools have proven usage of the tight ends and stuff like that but the thing that interests me with Georgia and keeps me like thinking about them is just the possibility to kind of change the tight end room.”

Johnson is 6 feet and 5.5 inches tall. He weighs right at 240 pounds with a 4.63 laser time in the 40. He can test anywhere from 36 to 40 inches with his vertical jump.

The Bulldogs don’t have an athlete like that yet at TE for their 2020 team.  With all apologies to John FitzPatrick, Ryland Goede and Brett Seither they don’t have that blend of athletic ability, ball skills, explosiveness, length and overall size.

Not many tight end rooms do. Johnson could already spring past 10 feet in the broad jump in the summer of 2018.

“The possibility for me to change the tight end room at Georgia is there,” he said. “To where Georgia is starting to use tight ends more afterward then as a school. Some of the things that people say about other school’s tight ends then they would then be saying about Georgia’s tight ends. That definitely interests me about Georgia to kind of change the culture and change what people think about the tight ends coming out of there.”

That’s a good chunk of it with Georgia, but there’s another reason why he feels that way.

Theo Johnson-Georgia recruiting-UGA recruiting
Theo Johnson just continues to feel there is something different about UGA in comparison with his other three finalists. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Todd Hartley: A big factor with Theo Johnson

Johnson, as stated earlier, has heard it all. Especially one eyebrow-raising warning sign with any school trying to recruit an impact tight end. Especially one who is the nation’s No. 95 overall prospect.

It speaks to something about leopards not changing their spots. If a program like Georgia doesn’t feed their tight ends now, that says a lot about the program’s core offensive philosophies.

It should not be seen as missing the right players.

Johnson understands that. Especially with the TE usage point with Georgia. That shows just how much trust he has placed in Georgia TEs coach Todd Hartley.

“With that, it will definitely take a leap of faith,” he said. “Just because a lot of people throughout the process they say like if a school says ‘Oh don’t listen to somebody if somebody says we are going to start doing this or start doing that then don’t listen to it. Everybody says that. It is just recruiting talk and stuff’  but I really trust Coach Hartley there. It would take the trust we have built and the trust in the relationship we have.”

“I feel he is being truthful with me so it would take a leap of faith and just trusting Coach Hartley and everything he’s been telling me through this process is going to hold up when I actually get there.”

Theo Johnson-Georgia recruiting-UGA recruiting
Theo Johnson said he still talks to Darnell Washington these days, but it is more about their seasons and their college visits than anything else. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Iowa has the best tight end reputation of his schools. The Hawkeyes developed a pair of 3-stars into NFL first-rounders in 2019. NFL Pro Bowler George Kittles was a fifth-rounder in 2017. There was another third-round pick in 2013.

Penn State wins on about the same level as Georgia. Maybe just a notch lower of late. It has a great atmosphere and utilizes the tight end more.

The Nittany Lions have sent a second-rounder and a fifth-rounder from its TE room to the NFL in the last five years.

Michigan has a location benefit, a big program profile but hasn’t won at the same level as Georgia or Penn State. That degree is a gem and the Michigan alumni base is real. That’s the quick way to chop up his decision.

It seems like every school has a “10” in a certain area, but then they are all strong in the same core areas. Hence the difficulty.

“Everybody has told me to think about the school you would want to be at if you weren’t playing football,” he said. “That’s what everybody has told me. The next thing then is to put the football in it. How do you think that you would then be used?”

Then comes the tough part.

“For one school, there is a very good fit there,” he said. “One school, well this is the school I would want to be at if I wasn’t playing football. There is one particular school. And then with the football in there, it puts another one in. Then it takes out another school. Then there’s another school which would be first for that one.”

Kind of like paper cover rock. Scissors cut paper. Rock smashes scissors. But then there’s a fourth entry in the derby which uses its tight ends more.

“There are certain things one school has the edge on here which other schools do not have on the checklist thing I am thinking of,” he said, not drilling down any further than that.

Todd Hartley-Georgia recruiting-UGA recruiting
Georgia tight ends coach Todd Hartley is in his first year in Athens. He wants to find the most explosive athletes for the TE room he can in Athens going forward. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Why Theo Johnson will not commit on Monday

Johnson still has a season to finish. It still requires his city championship in Ontario.

“We were supposed to have our city championship game on [Thursday] but we got so much snow over the last two days,” he said. “Then it got really cold. The snow froze and it became ice. All of our fields have been deemed unplayable because they are so icy. Our championship game has been postponed until Monday.”

Johnson felt in the summer he would’ve made his decision by now. That would be clear after ripping off rapid-fire visits to Georgia, Iowa, Penn State and Michigan in the span of seven weeks.

He felt he’d go with the one that left him with the best “gut” feeling.

He would also rather have closure to this mental toll rather than the exposure of announcing his choice on the Under Armour All-American national TV stage.

“I’m not really worried about getting all the attention from that at the game,” he said. “I just want to go for it as soon as I know. I’m just ready for when I know for everyone else to know and then kind of move on to the next chapter. I don’t feel like waiting that long. Not interested in that. Once I know, I just kind of want to move forward with everything.”

When he released that commitment date edit out, did he know his choice then?

“I had a pretty good idea in mind,” he said. “It was between one or two schools. The date was a little farther out. I thought by that time the date came my mind would be made up for sure of the school I was thinking of.”

But that was a no-go.

“The more I talked about it then the more confused about it, I became,” he said. “I wasn’t going to be able to make a decision.”

It is no longer just one or two schools here.

“It was down,” he said. “I was thinking about maybe I had a school in mind. Now it is back out to four.”

His mother helped here. Amy Johnson is clear to not share with him her choice. At all. But she did take some time to help shape his thinking.

“It is now back to all four of them,” he said.

He had a “gut feeling” about that best school for him if football was taken away. Johnson has felt that for a while lately. Then he talked himself out of it. That feeling then went away.

“I was thinking then about another school and I talked to my Mom this past Saturday and I was like I really don’t know anymore and am unsure,” he said last week

Mom framed it up differently. He’d gotten used to answering the “Why not” question for each school.

“Then my mom said you’ve already looked at it from the negative point of view,” he said. “Why don’t we look at it from a positive point of view? Why would you want to go to this school?”

That started a new conversation.

“The more I brought up the positives for each school my mom then brought up more positives,” he said. “So with me just thinking over things a hundred times I might just have not thought of those anymore. She brought up things I might have not thought about or it had gone over my head or it wasn’t fresh in my head. That’s when I realized I had to take the step back here and go back to thinking about things again.”

Everyone tells him this: No choice is a bad choice. These are all great schools.

“I know all of these choices are very good choices,” Johnson said. “But I just don’t want to settle for just the goodchoice. I want to find the very best choice. I’m sure you could pick a name out of a hat. I could pick a name out of a hat. I’m sure I will have a good experience and a great career at each school. But something about me just wants to figure it all out in line and pick the very best one which will set me up in every way.”

That’s why this is so tough.

“This is definitely taxing,” he said. “Just got to keep pushing through. At the end of the day, I’ve got to sign a paper and put somebody’s hat on, though.”

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