Trieu: Sam Johnson impresses UM’s Harbaugh with throwing, leadership

Allen Trieu
Special to The Detroit News
Sam Johnson

Walled Lake Western’s gymnasium is rarely filled on school days in the afternoon unless there is a pep rally or an assembly, but neither of those was happening and much of the student body had filed in to watch junior quarterback Sam Johnson throw in front of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

To rewind, Johnson had been receiving college offers since he was in eighth grade. He played his first two seasons at Southfield before transferring to Western for his junior year, and somewhere in that transition, recruiting had slowed down for him. It picked back up this winter as schools like Boston College (specifically former Michigan assistant Scot Loeffler) watched him throw and offered scholarships, but this was the chance to earn a Michigan offer. Michigan passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton, who had been primarily recruiting Johnson up to this point, even sent him a message the day Harbaugh was due in, reminding him not to be nervous.

The atmosphere was not one of your typical evaluation period workout, but Johnson handled the pressure.

“It was packed,” said Johnson’s quarterback coach, Donovan Dooley. “Basically the whole school or most of the school, as much as we could get in, was in there. It felt like a pro day. Harbaugh watched him throw the route tree and then decided to throw a curveball because he knew Sam doesn't do lot of sprint-outs, so he came to me and said he wanted to see that.”

Johnson sprinted out and threw a 12-yard burst route, a quick out, and put it on the money. Then he threw back-shoulder fades. Dooley said it was one of his best days throwing the ball. Harbaugh’s reaction backs that up as the Michigan head man only needed to see roughly 30 throws before deciding it was enough.

“He loved his whole approach too,” Dooley said. “He was pleased about how he was telling guys to keep their routes flat or keep them skinny, and was vocal about it but in a positive way too. He was a leader and (Harbaugh) was impressed with that. After he saw him throw and lead his teammates, he said there’s no doubt this kid can play.”

With that, Johnson had a scholarship offer from Michigan.

“I wasn’t really nervous,” Johnson said. “I like that type of stuff. I like big crowds. It made me ball out more. It was nice to see people come to the gym and cheer me on.”

That should not be a surprise considering Johnson has played in big-game atmospheres since middle school.

He is a long, lean 6-foot-4, 198 pounds and still developing every week as he works with Dooley and many of state’s other top prospects at Sound Mind Sound Body’s Sunday training sessions. Dooley has worked with Johnson since he was 9 years old, and has seen all of the progress both physically and mentally.

“What impresses me more about Sam’s progression is his willingness to strive for perfection,” Dooley said. “He’s a film junkie, he’s improved on his arm slot a ton. One thing both Pep Hamilton and Scot Loeffler said is he has a smooth stroke. He is very, very accurate. He’s comfortable in the gun or under center and more comfortable running it more. Our first four or five games, he was leading the team in rushing.”

Johnson has more to learn about the schools recruiting him, and will visit Michigan and others soon, but admits he is not likely to drag out the recruiting process and may wrap everything up before his senior season.

He handled early success and the eventual addition of many critics the same way he has handled this recent success and attention – with maturity. That is how he approaches football, as well, which is a big reason Dooley sees much more success in his future – that, and he is still growing.

“He is one of the most talented guys I’ve ever worked with,” Dooley said. “He was a lump of clay and continues through this metamorphosis. He is going to be a big man. He will easily stand 6-foot-4, 235 pounds in college. He has an authentic feel for the game and is just tough as hell.”

In-state defender to visit

Zeeland (Mich.) East junior defensive end Adam Berghorst will visit Michigan this Sunday. The Wolverines offered Berghorst on a recent visit to Ann Arbor and this will be his second trip to campus this winter.

Beghorst (6-7, 245 pounds) is being recruited by some as an offensive lineman, but Michigan has talked to him more about playing defense, where he was a standout for the Chix a year ago.

Michigan State, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota and others have offered.

Standout sophomore offered in Maryland

Upper Marlboro (Md.) sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Hazel was offered by Michigan. The 6-1, 188-pound Hazel is already ranked about the nation’s top 250 prospects by the 247Sports Composite, and is rated as a four-star.

Alabama, Michigan State, Boston College, Pittsburgh and 10 others have offered Hazel.

More information

Sam Johnson profile 

Adam Berghorst profile

Isaiah Hazel profile 

Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at