By: Stan Cotten, Voice of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons
You don't really need to call him Kevin. It's just so…formal. Johnson is his last name, but to get his attention all you really need to say is, "KJ."
Yep, KJ will do.
KJ will do whatever his coaches ask him to do. And then some. He'll be there early. He'll be one of the last to leave. For basketball players the term is "gym rat." I have no idea what the football equivalent to a gym rat is, but whatever it is – that's KJ.
Since his prep days in and around the Clarksville, Maryland, community southwest of Baltimore, Kevin Johnson has been about excelling in football. Like most players who end up in the NFL, KJ was all-everything in high school. He did it all for his River Hill Hawks while they were winning 47 of the 50 games in his four year varsity career.
But Johnson wasn't heavily recruited. My guess is that his body, or lack thereof, was a problem. I don't know how much KJ weighed when he stepped on campus at Wake Forest in the fall of 2010, but it couldn't have been much more than 155 pounds – and that was with a brick in each pocket. But he was so skilled that Jim Grobe's staff couldn't keep him off of the field. He played "heavier" than he really was or appeared and was one of only three true freshmen to play for the Deacons that season.
From day one he was a cover corner. At 6'1", he had length. He could run. And he could flip his hips and change direction better than any corner any of us had seen in years – maybe ever at Wake. And to top it off…he had zero fear. He played in eleven games that first season and started five, holding his own against ACC competition. Wake had taken a chance on this skinny kid with the crazy skills, and it looked like the roll of the dice was going to pay huge dividends.
And then 2011 came, and KJ was ruled academically ineligible for the season.
I don't know all of the details surrounding that bump in the road. Johnson was certainly capable. But it didn't get done, and KJ didn't play. We then learned something else about this young man whom his teammates all liked, who checked his ego (I'm not sure he really has one) at the door and was the hardest worker on the team. How would he handle having to practice and work for an entire year with no game to play as a reward?
Harder and longer and with more dedication than anyone ever thought or even asked.
In 2011 Kevin Johnson had to be the best scout team player in the country. Period.
He attacked practice. He made everyone around him better. His ability was matched by his work ethic. He was a defensive player, but often times you could find him in the quarterback meetings watching film just to learn how those on the "other side" of the ball processed and thought, hoping to gain an edge. He trained his body in the weight room to get stronger and heavier.
With 2011 behind him, KJ took off. He started each of the 36 remaining games in his career, and by the time his final season came around this past fall teams wanted no part of Wake's number 9. He was simply the best player on the field.
So who really is Kevin Johnson? What are the Texans getting with their first round draft choice?
Well, his feet will leave an impression in the grass now. I'm not so sure they did in the summer of 2010. He'll be a great teammate and an asset in the locker room, understanding the importance of individual accountability within the team dynamic.
He's driven, ultra-competitive. Part of that likely comes from his parents, Kevin and Judy, both graduates of Howard University. And part of it might also come from having an older best friend from childhood who is also in the NFL, Baltimore receiver Michael Campanaro - his former teammate at both River Hill and Wake Forest. Gotta be as good as your buddy, right?
He will arrive in Texas, with his Wake Forest degree in his back pocket, ready to get to work. You won't get cheated. He'll give you every ounce he has.
KJ will do.
Take a behind the scenes look at Kevin Johnson's first day as a Houston Texan.