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Thursday, February 7, 2013
Larry Johnson Sr. makes difference

By Josh Moyer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- He rarely addresses the media. He doesn't opine for the spotlight. Heck, Bill O'Brien didn't mention his name once during Wednesday's 33-minute national signing day press conference.

But don't be fooled here. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. has played one of the most important roles in piecing together this 2013 recruiting class.

He has surprised recruits in the South with visits. He secured early commitments. And he managed to become the lead recruiter for nearly half of PSU's top-25 class. Time and time again, linemen and players from Virginia and Maryland have sung Johnson's praises and described him as a motivating and honest coach who lends an ear whenever needed.

Larry Johnson Sr.
PSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. established solid regional ties as well as extending the Nittany Lions' recruiting reach.
"I have never met a coach in my life that gets so excited over his players' success and seeing them give 100 percent," four-star offensive tackle Andrew Nelson said. "He is a big reason I chose Penn State because I know there is no coach in the world who can build my character better than Coach Johnson. I love that man."

Johnson Sr. was a coaching legend at McDonough High School in Maryland during the 1980s. He made eight straight playoff appearances and then coached at Virginia's T.C. Williams -- home to Tony Hunt and the set for "Remember the Titans" -- for another two years.

Sure, he stopped coaching there before guys like Richy Anderson and Tanner Hartman were even born. But his reputation has lived on. For nearly 18 seasons, he's hopped in his car and hit the recruiting trail there on a seemingly monthly basis. It would surprise no one if a few high school coaches around the region were added to his Christmas card list.

O'Brien might not have mentioned the longtime assistant on Wednesday, but he did address Penn State's recruiting footprint -- which, he said, included Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. The extent of that footprint is thanks in no small part to Johnson Sr.

Recruiting coordinator/assistant coach Charles London didn't try to pretend otherwise.

"Larry's been great," London said Wednesday. "To rewind back to last year, he was key in keeping the kids from the 2012 class, and then he helped get started on a lot of these kids for 2013 because, about this time last year, a lot of us were just here for about a month. And Coach [O'Brien] hadn't really even gotten here yet.

"So he was a key part of holding together last year's class and kind of getting us off on the right foot for this year's class."

More than 15 players on last year's roster came from the Chesapeake Bay State and Virginia, a state with three major FBS programs. But Johnson Sr.'s value extends even beyond those borders.

Parker Cothren, a defensive tackle out of Hazel Green, Ala., was recruited mostly by Ted Roof -- who resigned last month so he could coach at his alma mater of Georgia Tech. Cothren thought about decommitting; he wondered about heading to an SEC school. But he stayed put after a convincing in-home visit from Johnson, who had laid out a detailed four-year plan built just for Cothren.

"He really just made me realize that's where I wanted to go," the 6-foot-5 defensive tackle said.

Countless recruits could say the same. And that's why, for as valuable as Johnson Sr. is at building up talent, he's just as good -- if not better -- at recruiting.