060921 ATLANTA, GA - Ga. Tech's Calvin Johnson (21) takes off downfield after a pass reception in the second quarter of the Georgia Tech vs Virginia football game Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium 9/21/06. (Johnny Crawford / AJC Staff)
Before he became one of the NFL's best ever wide receivers, Calvin Johnson was lighting up the ACC for Georgia Tech in three seasons as a Yellow Jacket. A look back at AJC reports on Johnson, from the time he signed with Tech out of Sandy Creek High to his departure in Jan. 2007.
On his fleeting baseball career as a senior at Sandy Creek High
Johnson ran a 6.54-second 60-yard dash, the sprint baseball scouts use as part of their gauge of athletic ability. That's fast, but Householder didn't think it was a big deal until the scouts told him it was close to Deion Sanders-type speed.
And when a couple of scouts showed up at a Sandy Creek practice with wooden bats to see what would happen, Johnson launched a few onto the school's softball field behind the left field fence. The scouts were hooked.
After his touchdown catch on a fade route beat Clemson in the second game of his career
They practiced it over and over and over again. Fade route. High, soft and precise pass. Touchdown.
"We must have practiced that 100 times, " quarterback Reggie Ball said.
It is a play that could go down as the biggest in Georgia Tech's 2004 football season --- the 11-yard touchdown pass from Ball to his towering young receiver, Calvin Johnson. The fade sealed an unlikely comeback against Clemson in front of a frenzied and dazed crowd at Death Valley.
With time expiring and hope fading, Georgia Tech snatched its season back from Clemson's grip with a beautiful strike to Johnson with only 11 seconds to play.
"For me, it's the best game I've ever been in, " Johnson said afterward. "We practice it all the time. It's never been as beautiful as that."
In the wake of Johnson’s catch
Sandy Creek football coach Rodney Walker will tell you about a player so unpretentious that, just more than two years ago, Johnson was surprised to hear he'd be a highly recruited college prospect.
"He's never been a kid who thought he was a great player, " Walker said. "I think he could be an All-Pro one day, and he'd still be just Calvin."
On the recruitment battle between Tech and Georgia
It could have happened.
"It was real close, " Johnson said.
So close that the Monday after Johnson's recruiting visit to Athens, Georgia Tech sent seven coaches --- the maximum NCAA rules allow --- to Johnson's house.
Tech countered with intensive recruiting led by offensive coordinator Patrick Nix but involving aides throughout the staff. It's not unusual for the Yellow Jackets to take a team approach to recruiting, especially with a local player, but it takes a top prospect to draw three coaches to his living room, and only a potential ACC rookie of the year attracts a seven-man sales job.
Nix, Gailey and Co. pushed two things above all else --- the value of a Tech degree and the opportunity to play right away.
Credit: Ken Sugiura
Credit: Ken Sugiura
On his eventual replacement
If Calvin Johnson leaves early for the NFL after next season, Georgia Tech will have another tall receiver waiting to step in.
West Laurens High wideout Demaryius Thomas, who like Johnson stands 6 feet 4, committed to the Yellow Jackets this week, becoming the 13th prospect to do so.
"I wanted to play wide receiver, and it's close to home, " said Thomas, who broke the news to Tech coach Chan Gailey and assistant Giff Smith during an in-home visit in Dublin. "They just told me that they wanted me real bad and that Calvin will probably be leaving after next year and they'll need another big wide receiver."
Landing Thomas is a major coup for Tech, which beat out rivals Georgia and Clemson for his services. The Bulldogs and Tigers both wanted Thomas to play tight end.
On his improvement as a sophomore
As unfathomable as it may be for some to believe, Johnson is a better player now, many say. The more contact cornerbacks have brought --- he drew 10 pass interference calls last year and has drawn four this year --- the more physical Johnson has become.
"I had to have an attitude change, " Johnson said. "I have to be a meaner player on the field. You can't allow people to push you around. They were putting their hands on me. I couldn't have that."
Credit: Ken Sugiura
Credit: Ken Sugiura
As his college career drew to a close
Pro scouts are not permitted to comment on college underclassmen. But one NFL scout attending Saturday's game said of Johnson, "As I see it, he'll be the top player taken [in the draft] if he comes out."
When asked if there was any reason to believe Johnson won't turn pro after this season, the scout said: "There's always the chance he won't. But he'd be stupid not to [come out]. His stock will never be higher. You see him on the field. They triple-cover him sometimes and it doesn't matter. They double him and he still goes up and scores a touchdown.
"I haven't seen anybody like him, ever. You don't see guys who are that big and that fast. He's a 6-5 receiver. He's a freak."
Announcing his decision to forego his senior season
Why return to class when there's a minimum of $25 million waiting on the other side of April's NFL draft rainbow? "The League, " as Johnson referred to his next stop, was an easy choice for a player one NFL draft analyst described as a "lock top-five pick."
Not even the list of sad-sack pro teams with the first five picks --- the Raiders, Lions, Browns, Buccaneers and Cardinals --- dissuaded the consensus All-American.
"I don't think that had anything to do with anything, " Johnson said at a Monday news conference at Tech. "It's been a dream of mine. It's where I've wanted to be since I've been playing football."
Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.