Why grad transfer lineman Ryan Johnson chose Georgia Tech

Former Tennessee offensive lineman Ryan Johnson (70), transferring to Georgia Tech as a grad transfer, during the game between the UAB Blazers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. (Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics)

Ryan Johnson won’t take his first classes at Georgia Tech until January, but he can quite confidently claim to already be a helluva engineer.

Johnson, the Tennessee offensive lineman who announced Monday that he will be playing for the Yellow Jackets next season as a grad transfer, earned a civil engineering degree summa cum laude in 2-1/2 years and leaves Tennessee only six hours shy of a master’s degree in structural engineering.

“I really just enjoy seeing how things work, not just structures, not just machines, but I enjoy the analytical process of figuring things out, breaking things down and figuring out how things work,” Johnson said in a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It was with a similar approach to his recruitment for his grad-transfer year that Johnson selected Tech over Arizona, Texas and a slew of other interested schools. Johnson said he sat down Sunday with his parents (Tyke and Judith) at their home in Brentwood, Tenn., and organized pluses and minuses on an Excel spreadsheet. He informed coaches Monday and sent in his scholarship papers along with Tech’s 21 high school signees.

» MORE: Geoff Collins touts highly rated recruiting class

“We thought about it and prayed about it a lot,” Johnson said. “This was by far the decision that made sense.”

Tech coach Geoff Collins and offensive line coach Brent Key will be taking receipt of a lineman who has proved himself an effective lineman in the SEC. Johnson, 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, played in 36 games and started 19 in three seasons, including all 12 games of his sophomore season in 2018. He has played center, guard and tackle. He likely will start out at guard.

At guard, Johnson likely would compete with returnees Jack DeFoor, Mikey Minihan and Connor Hansen. He looks like he’ll be a big help to a position group that needs more size and experience. It’s another win for Tech and Collins in the transfer market.

Johnson is good with his hands and plays light on his feet, unsurprising for someone who can dunk a basketball and who ran the 400 meters in high school. Johnson attended Brentwood Academy, where one of his teammates and good friends was the late Brandon Adams. Johnson said that Adams was at his home frequently. Like so many others, Johnson fondly remembered that “every time he came into the room, he had a big ole smile on his face and changed the energy of the room.”

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Johnson’s course of study isn’t finalized, but he plans to earning a master’s in analytics, which is an interdisciplinary program that incorporates classes in Tech’s business, computing and engineering schools. It would fit a young man whose interest in engineering was fed by exposure to his parents’ home construction company.

“Everyone likes to see an engineer that understands how the business world works and can understand how to balance a checkbook and how to manage your business,” Johnson said.

Growing up, he had a penchant for taking household appliances apart and putting them back together. As a high schooler, he built computers from parts of discarded machines at his parents’ business.

“I’ve almost set my carpet on fire when I crossed a couple wires, but you live and you learn,” Johnson said.

In leaving Tennessee, a team he had grown up pulling for, Johnson said that he had “decided that it was time move on and we were going in different directions.” Tyke Johnson further explained that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, hired from Georgia last offseason, was shifting the offense to a scheme similar to Georgia’s, a run-heavy style that relied on linemen significantly heavier than Johnson. Ryan, Tyke said, wanted to play in a pro-style scheme, which is what he was recruited to play in by former coach Butch Jones.

“Different kind of football,” Tyke Johnson said. “Doesn’t make either one better or worse.”

After submitting his name into the transfer portal in early December, Johnson fielded inquiries from a number of schools, including Auburn, Florida State and Miami besides Tech, Arizona and Texas. He was looking for an offensive scheme that was a fit, a line coach that could help prepare him for the NFL and a team culture where he could offer his leadership and example.

“We want to leave more than we take, and we’ve tried to instill that in him,” Tyke said.

Georgia Tech offensive line coach Brent Key speaking with media after practice August 9, 2019. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Tech moved to the top of the list when Key visited him at his home in Tennessee. The Johnsons were wowed by Key’s expertise and passion for Tech.

“We just talked shop and you could tell by far the man is brilliant,” Johnson said. “His knowledge of the game (is deep) and he can help me get to where I want to go and improve my skills and improve my craft to get to the next level.”

The two spoke at length again during his official visit Dec. 7-8. Key broke down Johnson’s game video and pointed out different facets of his game that he could improve to have a better shot at the NFL.

“I think that he is, without a doubt, one of the best, if not the best offensive line coach in the country right now,” Johnson said.

On his official visit, his hosts were Tech’s departing grad transfers, offensive lineman Jared Southers and tight end Tyler Davis.

“They gave him the blueprint for how to enter this program, how to enter this culture and take it to another step,” Collins said. “So, really excited about him.”

With his final season of eligibility, Johnson is similar to Davis and Southers in that he's not merely seeking more playing time. Seeing Tech as an ascending program, Johnson said he wants to leave "a lasting mark." He'll have an opportunity to lead, as Tech signed six offensive linemen Wednesday.

Southers and Davis did similarly, helping guide a young team through a coaching transition. They were both named team captains at the end of the season in recognition for their leadership.

“What I want to do is I want to build upon that,” Johnson said. “I want to take those cornerstones (laid by Southers and Davis) and I want to keep laying bricks on top of that.”

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