- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
HOOVER, Ala. -- Not many people knew Deon Johnson's name when he committed to the University of Alabama in mid-April. The slim wide receiver from Spanish Fort High School just outside of Mobile, Ala., didn't come with the acclaim of a Robert Foster, the No. 2 ranked wideout in the ESPN 150 who played on fields opposite Johnson last week at the National Select 7-on-7 Championships here in Hoover. The hoard of media around Johnson was nearly half of what the standout from Pennsylvania experienced.
Ask Johnson's coach, Mark Freeman, and it's understandable why the country may not know Deon Johnson's name yet. Or know that he likes to go by D.J., not Deon. For three years, D.J. was kept under wraps.
"He had to sit out the year before because he moved, his sophomore year," Freeman explained. "That year he didn't play. I'm not sure what he did in Mobile as a ninth grader, he didn't play much then. So he almost missed three years of football."
Freeman said it didn't take long to know Johnson was a great talent. In his ever first organized practice, it was obvious what kind of player he could be.
"He got over here and we worked him in the spring when I got here and you could just tell he was a special kid," Freeman said. "He's really explosive. He's explosive quick. That's the thing that coaches talk about when they see him, he's explosive quick -- a lot of people can run, but he's quick and explosive."
The second-year coach at Spanish Fort High said that there are some kids who run a 4.32 40-yard dash, and then there are some that have great hands and can catch the football. In Johnson, he said he found both.
"He has great hands, he's explosive with the ball," Freeman said. "We get that joker the ball any way we can. I'll fire myself if I don't."
Johnson isn't so quick to demand the football. The rising senior is shy off the field, letting his play speak for him. In fact, he's still wrapping his head around his future with the Crimson Tide.
"I ain't ever imagined playing at the University of Alabama," Johnson said. "My parents and I went [to Tuscaloosa], and it felt like home. The first time I was up there, I wanted to make my decision, and I committed."
Johnson said committing to Alabama was a "relief." He told coach Nick Saban and assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt of his decision at camp in April, and immediately got back to work.
He said he's glad he decided then so he could focus on his senior season. He said he wants to reach 1,000 receiving yards and improve on the quickness with which he runs routes.
In a lot of ways, Johnson is still a raw talent. Prior to last season, he hadn't played a single game of organized football. When he stepped onto the practice field for Spanish Fort, he admitted he was "a little rusty" but Freeman and the rest of the coaching staff saw what he could become. The Alabama coaching staff did, too.
Johnson may not be a household name yet, but he's working on it. Quietly, he's working on his game and letting his play do the talking.
7dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough