Texas A&M Aggies: Terry Price
In a league often dominated by line-of-scrimmage play, the Aggies know they have to be up to par if they want to be long-term contenders in the conference. On the offensive line, that hasn't been an issue. They've stayed relatively healthy and had high-level players across the front five.
While the Aggies had the luxury of a mostly veteran line and a highly productive defensive end in Damontre Moore in 2012, their inaugural SEC season, the 2013 season brought something totally different. The Aggies were young, inexperienced and not particularly deep as they continued to recruit in an effort to get better numbers on the defensive line.
After the Aggies' 13th practice of the spring on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder indicated that they're making progress toward that effort.
"Up front for the first time, we're going to be able to roll people," Snyder said. "I told [defensive line coach] Terry [Price] yesterday that when we get to the fall, we're going to have to practice our rotations, which is a great thing."
Snyder and Price could look at opponents such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU last season with envy. Those programs have enough talent on their defensive fronts to freely substitute and not worry about a drop-off in level of play. Texas A&M hasn't had that luxury the last two seasons, but with a heavy focus on defensive line recruiting in recent seasons and a highly regarded group coming in from the 2014 recruiting class, the Aggies are taking steps toward having that ability.
One benefit is that the Aggies return virtually their entire defensive line from 2013. Those same players who were rushed into duty as youngsters, such as defensive tackles Isaiah Golden and Hardreck Walker and defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Jay Arnold, will no longer be freshmen and have a year of SEC experience under their belts.
Add into the mix five-star prospect Myles Garrett, ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and four-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson as part of a five-man defensive line class, and suddenly the pieces begin to come in place.
Garrett, Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson are a trio of defensive ends due in Aggieland in the summer and it has pushed the incumbent defensive ends, such as junior Julien Obioha, to raise their level of play this spring.
"Obioha's fighting for his life because competition makes us all better and he knows what's coming," Snyder said.
Henderson is the only one of the five defensive line recruits to enroll in January and he'll be joined in the summer by Deshawn Washington. Henderson has already made waves in his short time on campus, but he still has progress to make this summer.
"(The new) guys, (they) don't know how to practice. (Henderson is) a little bit out of shape," Snyder said. "He does have a big rear end and he's a plugger in the middle. When he's fresh, he's not bad. ... Right now he's three plays and he's done. He's going to bring some beef up front for us."
Veterans such as Obioha, senior defensive end Gavin Stansbury and junior defensive tackle Alonzo Williams, who have two years of experience, are expected to have significant roles again this season. With those returnees, a redshirt freshman entering the mix [Justin Manning], the returning youngsters and incoming recruits on the way, the future on the defensive front looks a little bit better for the Aggies after a disastrous 2013 on defense.
"We're not there," Snyder said of the defensive depth. "We still need another recruiting class, but we're way, way, way closer."
Climbing out of the SEC cellar in major defensive statistical categories is critical if the Aggies wish to succeed in the SEC West. Central to that goal is the performance of the Aggies’ defensive line, a unit that is a work in progress this spring.
“Zaycoven [Henderson] has continued to impress,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said of the true freshman, who enrolled in January.
Henderson, at 6-foot-1 and 310 pounds, appears to be a possible instant-impact player. The four-star 2014 prospect, who was previously committed to TCU and Texas before eventually landing in Aggieland, brings the size and ability the Aggies need to improve their quality and depth at defensive tackle. That’s significant for a run defense that allowed 222 rushing yards per game and ranked 110th nationally (as well as last in the SEC) in that area.
Another defensive tackle making waves this month is one from the previous recruiting class: 2013 signee Justin Manning.
Ranked as the top defensive tackle in the state of Texas in his class, and the ninth-best nationally, Manning didn’t see a snap of game action last fall while he redshirted. But Golden’s absence has allowed Manning to get some time in the two-deep this spring and show the improvements he has made.
“[He] showed some twitch that he had in high school,” Sumlin said. “He lost a little weight; when he got here he was out of shape. He has come on.”
If Henderson and Manning can contribute, that helps bolster the Aggies up the middle, where they already have veteran Alonzo Williams and sophomore Hardreck Walker, who also contributed as a true freshman. With ESPN 300 defensive tackle DeShawn Washington arriving this summer and Golden expected to return, the Aggies could begin to show the kind of depth Sumlin has been pining for since taking over the program.
At defensive end, there’s a mix of veterans and youth. Julien Obioha, who has been a starter since his true freshman season, is now a junior. Senior Gavin Stansbury is coming off his best season in Aggieland, showing flashes of his potential last fall. Senior Tyrell Taylor is back also and has been getting turns this spring.
The two young players at the position who are sitting out with injuries this spring -- Arnold and Hall -- both saw time as true freshmen last season, suggesting a promising future for each. And in the summer, the Aggies will welcome the services of five-star recruit Myles Garrett as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham and three-star prospect Jarrett Johnson.
Obioha said he is looking forward to the increased depth.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “My first couple of years here I had to play 60-70 plays [per game] and you don’t want to play that much. When you think about a two-deep or a three-deep, you want to play maybe 35 plays and having those 35 plays be where you can come 100 percent every play and you’re not tired.”
Defensive line coach Terry Price’s message to his group this spring has been clear.
“Last year, bottom of the SEC, bottom 25 in the nation, that’s not going to happen this year, that’s been the message,” Obioha said. “We’re going to be completely different this year from the bottom to the top and it all starts with the D-line.”
The Aggies landed their third commitment in less than a week when ESPN 300 defensive end Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) jumped on board, committing to the Aggies on Thursday night.
Cunningham, the No. 234 prospect in the ESPN 300, is the second defensive end and third defensive lineman since Oct. 18 to commit to Texas A&M. ESPN 300 defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 7 player in the country and No. 2 defensive end, started the chain reaction.
On Monday, it was a 2015 prospect -- ESPN Junior 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack -- who pledged to the Aggies.
"I've been thinking about it a lot, and I had my list narrowed down to schools I felt comfortable with," Cunningham said. "It just seemed like the best situation for me, individually, being able to play in the SEC. It's a great school, and I'm really excited for it."
Cunningham is a longtime Texas A&M target and a legacy. His father, Rick Cunningham, played offensive line for Texas A&M in the late 1980s, was a fourth-round pick in the 1990 NFL draft and played eight seasons in the league. Rick was actually a roommate of former Texas A&M defensive lineman Terry Price, the Aggies' current defensive line coach and lead recruiter for Qualen.
"Coach Price has always been real since day one," Qualen said. "He was a roommate of my pops back in college. Coach Price and I became really, really cool."
Qualen took a visit to Texas A&M in March for the Maroon-and-White spring football game and also in September, the weekend the Aggies hosted Alabama.
"The Bama game gave me a chance to see how live competition is and how the '12th Man' is," Cunningham said. "The fan support is amazing down at A&M. The hospitality that I got in Texas was great. It felt right."
He is the 16th commitment in the Aggies' 2014 class and the ninth that projects to play on the defensive side of the ball. Loading up on the defensive line is particularly notable for the Aggies, who currently are 118th in the country in total defense and 112th in the nation in rushing defense.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cunningham is a four-star prospect who possessed double-digit scholarship offers, including offers from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington, as well as home-state schools Arizona and Arizona State.
He's the third defensive end in the Aggies' 2014 class, joining Garrett and Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes defensive end Jarrett Johnson. There are four defensive linemen in the Aggies' class, including ESPN 300 defensive tackle DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland).
"It's definitely a factor, but I'm confident in my abilities," Cunningham said. "I know the players that are going to be on the field are going to be the best players. I just have to step up and compete, and at the end of the day, that's all it's about."
The Aggies, who had the No. 9 class in the country coming into Thursday, hold 11 commitments from ESPN 300 prospects. Cunningham is the country's 22nd-ranked defensive end.
"I'm just glad I finally got to pull the trigger," Cunningham said. "It feels good."
So when the Aggies discovered that senior defensive tackle Kirby Ennis had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that would require season-ending surgery, it was a blow. Ennis started most of last season, was a starter this year and his absence mean more youth is injected into a lineup already full of it.
The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Golden has the kind of frame you look for in an SEC defensive tackle, he's just lean on playing experience with just four career games under his belt since signing with A&M in February.
"It doesn't matter how comfortable I am with it, it matters how comfortable he is," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It's not the NFL, I can't call Bob Stoops and trade a guy. We've got who we've got."
The coaches like what they've seen from Golden so far. An ESPN 300 recruit from Carthage (Texas) High School, Golden showed enough during preseason training camp to crack the two-deep depth chart along with another true freshman defensive tackle, Hardreck Walker.
But with Ennis out for the remainder of this season, that means the Aggies' young defensive tackles will have to grow up in a hurry. Golden will start next to Alonzo Williams, a sophomore who has been a key player for the Aggies' up front this year. Walker and junior Ivan Robinson will figure into defensive tackle rotation as well.
Another ESPN 300 signee from the 2013 class, defensive tackle Justin Manning, is getting an increase in repetitions at practice. While it doesn't appear he'll see playing time just yet, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said that the Aggies are an injury away from having no choice but to put Manning into the rotation.
Golden brings size and is "very athletic and a natural playmaker," according to sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha.
"He's a very physical kid," Snyder said of Golden. "He's very capable of playing in this league. He's going to be a really good player someday. I actually sat in [defensive line coach] Terry [Price's] meeting [on Monday] in the back of the room like a fly on the wall and he seems excited, which he should be. It's part of college football.
Sumlin said Tuesday that his ideal scenario with freshmen is to have them in a backup role for a season then allow them the chance to become starters for the remaining three years of their careers. But it doesn't always work like that, especially when injuries come into play.
Golden has had a lot to handle already this season. Last month, he had to deal with the unexpected death of his two-month old daughter and missed the Alabama game shortly thereafter. He has appeared in all four of the Aggies' other games, and now a new challenge awaits him.
"Isaiah has been through a lot this season," Sumlin said. "He missed a week with the death of his child. He came on early on and played some good football for us. He's settled back down and emotionally it's been a pretty up-and-down situation for him this year.
"Last week we talked a little bit about where he was. Kirby's situation came to light and now he knows he has to go as a regular guy. Sometimes, different guys react differently. I'd be surprised if Isaiah doesn't do very, very well from here on out."
Williams, who seems to be a cagey veteran compared to the others even though he's just a sophomore, sees time at nose tackle when the Aggies' go to personnel packages of three defensive linemen, and that will continue, Snyder said. But Williams and Golden will be the go-to guys in four down linemen sets moving forward.
Obioha, who started 12 games for the Aggies as a true freshman at defensive end last year, said he told Golden to come to him with any questions since he understands what it's like to be a teenager facing SEC offensive linemen.
"I went through this last year," Obioha said. "There wasn't an injury, I earned my spot, but I was out there 18, 19 years old. I was just telling him, 'Man if you have any questions, come talk to me. I know exactly what you're going through.'"
For a run defense that is last in the SEC and 108th in the country, allowing 214.8 rushing yards per game, it's not the ideal situation. But it's the hand the Aggies' have been dealt and it's an opportunity recruits dream of when they're being recruited by a program.
"We hope guys come to play," Snyder said. "They get their opportunity now. I was pleased with what I saw [in practice] ... I think Isaiah's excited, I really do."
It's the lifeblood of a program. As players graduate or move on, new ones must come in to keep success going.
And this weekend could be the biggest yet when it comes hosting recruits.
While the college football world has long awaited the Alabama-Texas A&M rematch, the A&M staff has spent months preparing for the recruiting aspect of this weekend.
Roughly 75 recruits are expected to be in attendance for Saturday's highly-anticipated game between the No. 1 Crimson Tide and the No. 6 Aggies.
"I think [the game has] already had an impact," Sumlin said. "We have a large number of prospects that are going to be here. The move to the SEC has obviously been a boost for us. I think it wouldn't be as big of a boost if we didn't have some sort of success in the league last year. We didn't have all the success we wanted. We were extremely competitive and won a big game last year. But all that being said, I think the ability to compete and win in this league has really helped us too, in recruiting."
And that's the key. Without the 11-2 record, the Heisman Trophy run for Johnny Manziel or all the attention coming to the program as a result of that success in the SEC, widely considered the country's best conference, this weekend might not have been as big.
While the number of recruits who will be in attendance is impressive, so are the names. Topping that list are a host of highly-regarded 2014 ESPN 300 prospects: defensive end Myles Garrett, athlete Speedy Noil, safety Jamal Adams, defensive tackle Gerald Willis III, athlete Davion Hall, safety Edwin Freeman are among those expected. All of them are top 100 recruits.
“It’s going to be great, knowing A&M is in our top three," said Noil, who is making the trip with Willis, his high school teammate. "I want to see what they offer as an offense.”
Said Willis: “It’s going to be crazy. I’m very excited.”
A host of 2015 ESPN Junior 300 prospects are also expected in attendance. Receiver Tyron Johnson, outside linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end Anthony Wheeler and quarterback Kyler Murray are just a sampling of the impressive juniors that will make the trip.
If there's any doubt as to how important recruiting is to the Texas A&M staff, take this as evidence: Sumlin and defensive line coach Terry Price were out on the trail Thursday night via helicopter and trekked to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to see a prospect, fewer than 48 hours before one of the biggest games in program history.
The target? Garrett, the No. 7 player in the 2014 ESPN 300.
Coach Price and I strapped in headed to the Metroplex to find the next great Aggie! http://t.co/8d1BG3goMT
— Kevin Sumlin (@CoachSumlin) September 12, 2013
The swaggerchopper has landed. #swag http://t.co/n18uhrZ8nY
— Coach Terry Price (@Coach_TPrice) September 13, 2013
Sumlin and offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney also made a helicopter trip to Houston to see then-uncommitted 2013 ESPN 300 receiver Ricky Seals-Jones and 2013 Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kohl Stewart on a nationally-televised game between Sealy (Texas) High and Houston St. Pius X. Seals-Jones eventually committed and signed with the Aggies; Stewart signed but chose to play professional baseball after being chosen fourth overall in the MLB draft this summer.
While the Aggies continue to strengthen their position in recruiting statewide, their longtime rival, Texas, has a lot of question marks at the moment. After a decisive loss to BYU, the Longhorns fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. While the schools don't play each other anymore, they still battle for the same recruits. A win this weekend would further strengthen Texas A&M's position in the talent-rich Lone Star State.
This weekend has become something of a perfect storm for the Aggies. The chance to make a statement on a national level is there, with the eyes of fans across the country watching, not to mention dozens of recruits at Kyle Field to experience it all.
"You don't have a stage like this for this weekend if you're not a competitive program," Sumlin said. "And I think the high school coaches in this state do a fantastic job of coaching and regionally, recognizing that. And I think student-athletes are recognizing that, too, that we've got a great situation here from a stability standpoint, from a support standpoint, from a facilities standpoint and from a league standpoint.
"You don't have to go 700-800-900 miles away anymore to get all those things. That has been a big selling point for us since we've gotten here and I think that message has been driven home every week that we play in the SEC, not just play but play in meaningful games on big stages."
The unit performed well in its first year in the rugged conference, exceeding outsider expectations and becoming a key reason why Texas A&M was able to go 11-2.
This preseason brings -- in some ways -- feelings familiar to those at this time last year. The challenges for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and his staff are, as he put it on the first day of preseason training camp earlier this month, "Exactly the same."
"We've got a lot of unknowns on defense," Snyder said.
Senior linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart provided production and leadership from their respective positions. Others, like defensive tackle Spencer Nealy and then-true freshman Julien Obioha produced beyond what was expected from them prior to the season. Defensive back Deshazor Everett proved versatile and valuable in the secondary, as did nickel cornerback Toney Hurd Jr.
This season, the Aggies are looking for more players to step up and answer questions like "Who is going to replace the production of Damontre Moore?" or "Where will the on-field leadership come from?"
The answer to the former question begins with Obioha.
A sophomore from Brother Martin High in New Orleans, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end started all 12 regular season games last season before missing the AT&T Cotton Bowl with a back injury. He sat out spring and spent the offseason getting healthy, but he's ready to go for what the coaches hope is a strong second season, improving on his 2012 totals (25 tackles, a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, one forced fumble).
"When he first got here, nobody knew who he was," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He would be the last freshman that anybody thought would have started every game for us last year. I didn't see anybody last year say 'What about Julien Obioha? How's he coming?' All he did was start the Florida game and start every game during the regular season. He's a smart guy, a hard worker, a tough guy. He's played as much football in the SEC as anybody we have. That's amazing for a true freshman."
Matching what Moore did won't be easy. He was a force last year, posting 12.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. Sumlin said replacing that type of production could be done in different ways.
"Either by personnel, with just moving Julien over there and trying some new guys or by scheme," Sumlin said. "Creating a different blitzer or a guy like [converted linebacker and former receiver] Nate Askew or somebody else. Right now we're evaluating the personnel and the scheme to create that kind of stuff."
Last year, the Aggies were solid in several key areas. In scoring defense, they were 26th in the country, allowing 21.8 points per game. Their third-down defense was among the best nationally. They were 16th overall and fourth in the SEC on third-down conversions, allowing a conversion just 32.4 percent of the time.
On third-and-short situations, the Aggies ranked even higher. They were No. 1 in the SEC and No. 5 nationally on 3rd-and-5 or fewer yards, allowing conversions 44.6 percent of the time. Florida State, North Carolina State, TCU and Oregon State were the only teams better than Texas A&M in those scenarios. You don't achieve those numbers without getting solid work from your defensive line. Combine those numbers with one of the nation's best offenses and it's easy to see why the Aggies were so successful.
If you listen to defensive line coach Terry Price, though, it doesn't sound like he's preaching those statistics. Instead, he's pointing on the opposite end of the spectrum to motivate his group.
"When you look at all the ESPNs and all the magazines and they have us ranked as the worst D-line in the SEC, I mean, everywhere you read it," Price said. "Two or three different places I've read that we're the worst D-line in the SEC. You have to form an identity. That means we're going to have to outplay folks and we're going to have to be the hardest working group and we're going to get some things done."
Obioha, Price said, embodies the kind of work ethic that will help the front exceed outsider expectations.
"To me, he is what we live by and our motto as a D-line is," Price said. "Our identity has to be the hardest playing D-line in this league. One thing that he does every single day in practice and every single game, he lays it on the line and plays hard every snap."
As for leadership, coaches and teammates have often pointed to Hurd and middle linebacker Donnie Baggs as players who have taken that role. Baggs was a reserve linebacker a year ago but appeared in 12 games and started one; Hurd is a senior who played every game, started seven and was productive throughout the 2012 season.
In addition to two new starting linebackers, the status of Everett and safety Floyd Raven for the start of the season is still uncertain after offseason arrests. Both were suspended during the summer after their arrests but returned to practice for preseason training camp. Sumlin said on Tuesday that a decision on whether they'll miss any games hasn't been made yet. Senior defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, a returning starter who also had an offseason arrest, is suspended for the Aug. 31 season opener against Rice.
Those situations combined with the natural attrition through graduation and the draft means plenty of new faces will be on the two-deep depth chart and see the field. The presence of newcomers can be seen during camp, where true freshmen have accounted for more than half of the second-team defense at times during 11-on-11 drills in recent weeks.
"We've got a bunch of new guys," Sumlin said. "Good news is that they're talented, but they just haven't played. They're learning on the run. The new guys, we're throwing it all at them. There's a lot of defense in, but the challenge is just like there is every year. We've got some new guys but I think the good news is that they're talented and they're working hard and they're understanding."
Price, a former Texas A&M defensive lineman himself, considers his group a family. So when the steaks and ribs hit the grill and his linemen gather, it's often a happy, joyous occasion.
The latest such reunion was missing one family member: Polo Manukainiu.
Manukainiu, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman for the Aggies, was one of three teenagers killed in a single car accident in northern New Mexico on the night of July 29. The crash also took the lives of Utah incoming freshman defensive tackle Gaius Vaenuku, 18, and 13-year-old Andrew Uhatafe.
Price's cookout, which took place just two days after Manukainiu's death, was a welcome occurrence as the Aggies mourned the loss of their teammate.
"I believe we needed to have that," sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha said Friday. "Come together as a family and celebrate [his life]. That's the one way we can always celebrate, is go over to Coach Price's house and eat some steaks. That's what we needed to do."
Today, the entire Texas A&M football team will turn its hearts and minds towards Manukainiu's family as the squad heads to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Colleyville, Texas for Manukainiu's funeral. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin plans to speak at the funeral.
On Friday, Sumlin welcomed Bill Johnston, the area director of the Brazos Valley chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Mikado Hinson, the team chaplain at Houston where Sumlin coached previously, to speak to the team.
"[They talked] about reality, not ducking away from it but getting some things out in the open," Sumlin said. "It'll be an emotional situation for a lot of different people. For us to be able to deal with it openly as a team and to give support to each other and that family [today] is very, very important."
Teammates remember the 19-year-old Manukainiu as a hard-working young man of high character.
"He was a great guy, a very humble individual," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said Monday. "We were looking forward to him playing for us this year. It's extremely emotional going into camp but we'll dedicate our hard work and dedication to Polo throughout the season."
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder joined the Aggies' staff around the time the Aggies began recruiting Manukainiu. He was rated as a four-star defensive tackle by ESPN and committed to Texas A&M on Jan. 29, 2012, following in the footsteps of a pair of relatives who also played at A&M, Semisi Heimuli (1996-99) and Lee Foliaki (2004-05).
"He's from a very strong family, a very tight family," Snyder said. "When I was in the home [for a recruiting visit], I had just got hired when we started recruiting Polo. I know how tight-knit they are and what a great kid he was. It's a little bit of a struggle [to cope with] to be honest with you."
Snyder remembers a pleasant Manukainiu.
"He always had a smile on his face," Snyder said. "Polo was a kid that liked to joke around quite a bit. He brought a smile to everybody's face....For a young guy, he brightened up a room when he walked in."
At 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, Manukainiu was expected to be involved in the defensive line rotation after redshirting last season. He was a product of Texas high school powerhouse Euless (Texas) Trinity, the same school that Vaenuku attended.
"We talked [Friday] as a team about what time means to you and not taking time for granted," Sumlin said. "Everybody thinks that they have plenty of time. You never know."
Sumlin said it means a lot to be able to speak about Manukainiu at the funeral.
"For me to be able to talk and show our support to the family, to Polo's immediate family, is a big deal," Sumlin said. "He was a part of our family for a year-and-a-half but that's a son for 18, 19 years. For us to show our support, that's about all we can do at this point and it's a big deal for us to be there at that time."
Price said the last week and a half has been difficult for him and his defensive linemen.
"One thing I try to tell all of our guys, all of our group is that 'We're all a family,'" Price said. "Not only is the team a family, but the D-line group is a family. Any time you lose a family member, it hurts everybody. It's tough for everybody included, including myself, because I'm the leader of the group.
"We're all going to go up there together and try to help the family get through this tough, tough time and take part in the funeral. Then we'll come back and go back to work, but we're definitely going to miss Polo."
On June 2, Chark returned to Aggieland, this time for their first Sunday camp of 2013. He performed well enough to earn a scholarship offer from the staff, which he was told about on Sunday night after the Aggies' second Sunday camp, which he did not attend.
The wait ended on Sunday night. Johnson is commit No. 11 for the Aggies.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect ended his recruitment on Sunday, calling the coaching staff to deliver news of his commitment, according to Seven Lakes coach Lydell Wilson.
On Friday, Johnson spoke of plans of attending both Texas and Texas A&M camps to get one final look at both schools, even though he stated the Aggies were his clear leader and he felt the gap might be too large for the Longhorns to pick up ground.
He didn't attend either camp, but decided to make his choice official on Sunday. Johnson's primary recruiter was special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Jeff Banks and defensive line coach Terry Price.
When asked earlier this week why the Aggies had such a lead in the race for his services, Johnson pointed to a few factors.
"Their coaching staff," Johnson said. "I feel real good around them. I feel real good about UT, but A&M, it's just a little bit better. More like family, closer to home and they've had more recent success."
Aside from his top two of Texas A&M and Texas, Johnson had offers from Baylor, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma and most recently, TCU. He maintained that he wanted to stay in-state and though he considered others, his top two have been the Longhorns and Aggies since they both offered in February.
Johnson is the 11th commit of the Aggies' 2014 class and the second defensive line commitment. He is the first defensive end commit of the class.
He'll attend Longhorns camp on June 9 in Austin, but first is a stop this weekend in College Station, Texas, at Texas A&M's first camp of the year. The 6-foot, 178-pound prospect feels good about where he stands with the Aggies after assistant coaches Clarence McKinney and Jeff Banks stopped by Cypress Ridge last week to evaluate him.
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One of the most notable stops of the week occurred when Aggies' quarterback coach Jake Spavital stopped by Bossier City (La.) Parkway High School on Tuesday to see 2014 quarterback Brandon Harris.
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He even brought along a friend, fellow Southeast Texas defensive back Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) an ESPN 150 prospect.
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If it does play out that way, it would be the latest in a long line of landmark events that have occurred since the start of last football season that have raised Texas A&M's profile and, as a result, helped the Aggies in recruiting.
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The 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect already had visited Texas, but his visit to Aggieland closed the gap in the race. The Aggies made quite the impression on Johnson, enough for him to call the race "even."
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Kirk Herbstreit's Game Plan Breakdown
12:00 PM ET Tennessee 12 Georgia 12:00 PM ET Vanderbilt Kentucky 3:30 PM ET Arkansas 6 Texas A&M 4:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech 5 Auburn 7:00 PM ET Missouri 13 South Carolina 7:30 PM ET Memphis 10 Ole Miss 7:30 PM ET New Mexico State 17 LSU