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May 9, 2009

Jonhson has instincts, talent ... and DI on his mind

Jeremiah Johnson just got out of class for his lunch period. But instead of heading to the cafeteria, he grabbed his bag lunch and bolted down to Suitland's meeting room. He popped in a DVD, turned off the lights and watched film of his next opponent. Granted, watching a receiver's footwork over and over again isn't exactly riveting, Oscar worthy material, but Johnson was engrossed nevertheless. It became a daily ritual for Suitland's top cover man.

"Watching film is the most important part in preparing for an opponent," Johnson said. "And you have to know your opponent. It is important for me to study so I can get an advantage."

Johnson's obsession paid off. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound corner became one of the best and most dependable defensive backs in Prince George's County last season.

"I just love that kid," Williams said. "His maturity and calmness … He's just so on point. And he's so smart."

Johnson started at free safety as a sophomore and learned the plays so quickly that he began making coverage calls. By his junior year, he was named team captain and became a bona fide leader. The safety position was second nature.

"I know every call for every position," Johnson said.

Johnson could take apart offenses on the fly, and he mastered the art of reading a quarterback's eyes. He only had two interceptions last year, but statistics don't illustrate his impact on Suitland's defense.

"He communicated all the slight tendencies that receivers use to get an advantage," Williams said. "He would yell to the corners, 'Hey watch the inside or hey he's going up top.'"

Johnson did more than just call out plays. Any defensive back coach could do that. He made plays, too. In fact, Johnson recorded over 70 tackles last season, an astounding number for a defensive back. The reason? He had a nose for the ball and he loved to hit, in spite of his size.

"I feel like I have the biggest heart on the field," Johnson said. "I put my body on the line to make the tackle."

On one play against Bowie, the quarterback completed a pass in the flat to his running back. But before the receiver could turn upfield, Johnson flew in and leveled him.

In an even more memorable performance against Wise, Johnson turned into a tackling machine. He led the team with 18.

"We had breakdowns up front with our linebackers and he got on his horse and ran down backs in the open field," Williams said, "His ability to do that saved us a few games."

This year, however, Johnson may not have as many opportunities to come up and deliver the blow. He'll be moving to his more natural position: cornerback. For all his hitting and heady play, Johnson is without a doubt the best one-on-one cover man Suitland has. He played safety to take advantage of his range, but this year he'll use his speed to go toe-to-toe with the opposition's No. 1 receiver.

"I'm great at one-on-one coverage," Johnson said. "I'm one of the fastest kids on the team and I can cover a lot of ground."

Johnson ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash last season, but he's gotten faster after working with Joe Haden, who runs a speed and conditioning camp. Haden showed Johnson a new starting technique, which helped his initial burst off the line. Now he consistently runs the 40 in less than 4.5 seconds. Johnson is also hitting the weight room hard; he'll be close to 170 pounds by the time the season starts. On top of that, he's not done growing.

Size, speed, strength and smarts. Sounds like a recipe for Division I.

"With his athletic ability he should be able to go DI and play corner at the next level," Williams said. "If somebody at I-AA gets him, then they got a gem. He just has so much upside to him."

So far this spring four top-tier programs have visited Johnson at Suitland. Syracuse, Rutgers, Maryland and Rhode Island are all intrigued, and Maryland might be close to making an offer.

"James Franklin (Maryland) told me I was exactly what they were looking for at corner," Johnson said. "He invited me to their camp and hopefully they might offer me."

For Johnson, all doubts have been allayed. Division I? No sweat.

"I can absolutely play Division I," he said.



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