When Tennessee receivers coach Zach Azzanni went to Blinn (Tex.) Junior College to recruit former Oklahoma receiver Kameel Jackson in the spring of 2013, little did he know that he would come back with one of his most consistent receivers.
Except it turns out that it’s not Jackson. His roommate at the time, Johnathon Johnson, a less-heralded prospect, caught Azzanni’s eye on film during the visit. After showing it to the other coaches in Knoxville, Johnson got an offer that he quickly accepted. Jackson committed to Tennessee as well, but didn’t sign and hasn’t shown up on anybody’s campus yet.
Johnson, meanwhile, keeps making plays in camp this fall for the Vols.
“With Johnathon Johnson, the best compliment I can give him and you guys probably know what I’m going to say, is his consistency,” said coach Butch Jones. “He brings it every day. He’s worked himself into being a good football player.”
He’s seen regular work with the second-team offense, and the undersized, 5-9, 186-pound receiver has even seen some situational work with the first team. Not bad for a guy the coaches jokingly call “two star.”
“We call him our two-star,” said Jones. “Again, it’s a great illustration that stars don’t mean anything. He’s got a drive to be great, He’s got that inner drive, he works every day and doesn’t say two words.
“He shows up to work every day and makes plays for us. He takes coaching. Coach Z [Azzanni] tells him one thing and that’s it. You never have to repeat it and he never makes the same mistakes twice, so I’ve been very, very happy with Johnathon.”
The nickname doesn’t seem to bother Johnson, who got his feet wet with 13 catches for 189 yards as a sophomore last season.
“I kind of just laugh, two-star comes from me coming out of high school and not having any offers and I was a two-star by Rivals – it’s something funny to me,” he said. “It started this camp.”
His increased comfort level also began this camp. He confessed that last year was somewhat of a whirlwind as he was thrown into the fire at times to help aid a depleted wide receivers group. Now, with a year under his belt, he’s beginning to fell more confidence.
“It feels a lot easier,” he said. “I’m coming into camp, knowing the plays, knowing what the players expect, so this year has been a lot easier on me – just knowing the expectations of how to play and everything, so it’s been real good.”
He doesn’t forget his nickname, or the journey he’s been on, however. When Jones challenged the team to think of one word to help define their 2014 season, Johnson chose “chip.”
“I try to come out there every day with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I’m definitely trying to prove what I can do every day.”