Lucas Johnson’s high school coach explains transfer decision, plans

Former Georgia Tech quarterback Lucas Johnson hasn’t relinquished his aspirations to play in the NFL. It’s what has led him to leave Tech as a graduate transfer, according to Johnson’s high school coach.

“Truth be told, he’s really thinking about going to the next level, which surprised me a little bit because I always thought he wasn’t thinking that far ahead,” John Anderson, Johnson’s coach at Mt. Carmel High in San Diego, told the AJC Saturday. “That’s kind of the motivation behind what he’s doing now — just looking for new opportunities.”

On Jan. 6, Johnson announced his intention to leave Tech as a grad transfer. After multiple injuries cut short his playing opportunity with the Yellow Jackets, he will have two more years of eligibility and can play right away as a graduate. The 2020 season will be his fifth in college, but he received an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA last August after he had redshirted in 2016 and then missed all of the 2018 season with an injury.

Anderson said that Johnson has “narrowed it down to a couple schools” and will make visits in March before deciding. Out of respect for Johnson, who has kept a low profile with his recruitment on social media, Anderson declined to identify them.

He did allow that “they’re schools that are playing on Saturdays on national TV.”

At Tech, Johnson showed promise playing for both former coach Paul Johnson and coach Geoff Collins. He was in position to be the No. 2 quarterback behind TaQuon Marshall in 2018 before he suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in his right foot in that preseason.

After the coaching transition, Johnson showed enough ability last spring and preseason to earn the starting job for Tech's second and third games this past season. Against South Florida and The Citadel, Johnson was a combined 16-for-27 for 136 yards with a touchdown and interception, showing flashes but also struggling in an offense that was having difficulties across the field.

He suffered an upper-body injury against The Citadel, sidelining him long enough for redshirt freshman James Graham to seize the starting job. Johnson returned for the Pitt game Nov. 2 and had one particularly effective drive in relief of Graham. With Tech down 17-10 in the third quarter, he was close to scrambling for a touchdown, but fumbled on a hard hit just shy of the goal line and was knocked out of the game in the process. It was his final snap for the Jackets.

“I think the injuries kind of got to him, and he’s getting his degree and I’m thinking it might be a good time to see what else is out there for him opportunity-wise,” Anderson said.

Some might find Johnson's NFL aspirations questionable given his modest production at Tech. But there is no shortage of college quarterbacks who have succeeded at a far higher level after leaving their original school, starting with LSU Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. Of the top 20 passers in FBS last season by yardage per game, six were transfers.

“He definitely appreciates the education that he got at Georgia Tech,” Anderson said. “He can’t say enough positive things about the Yellow Jackets and their program. He just thinks that he wants to move on to more opportunities. He’s really positive about the past and the future.”