Several years back, at a Sound Mind Sound Body workout in Detroit, then-Michigan quarterback Shane Morris was throwing passes to a group of top high school receivers from the city. Among the group was a sixth grader who was about half the height of the rest of the group. But that youngster caught every ball thrown his way.
That was just one day of the process that has turned Grosse Pointe South freshman cornerback Will Johnson into a budding major college football recruit.
Some of the Max Ex Detroit coaches say he was “raised through the program,” and all of those years of tagging along have resulted in it now being his turn. After starting all season at South and now growing to over 6-foot-2, Johnson has received offers from Michigan State, Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss, and then on Thursday, the Michigan Wolverines, his mother and father’s alma mater.
“Will’s been in the program since it started over at Youthville,” Sound Mind director/founder Curtis Blackwell said. “He was just a baby then and his dad Deon, who was a co-founder, was always saying, ‘We need to keep it going until Will is old enough to be in it,’ and now here we are.”
Once Blackwell and Deon Johnson formed a 7-on-7 team and began traveling the country, the younger Johnson was right there with them and seeing firsthand how top players handled their recruitments.
“Will went out of town with us with Dennis Norfleet, Shane Morris, Damon Webb, Devin Funchess – he saw all of those guys come through Max Ex and is on a first-name basis with them,” Blackwell said. “He was 7, 8, 9 years old, traveling on buses and sleeping in hotels and saw how the experience was.”
From 1991-94, Deon Johnson played defensive back at Michigan. His son receiving a scholarship from the same school he played for is something they have long thought about. He spoke with head coach Jim Harbaugh on Thursday and Harbaugh said the decision to offer Will was a no-brainer. The decision the young man has from here, however, will not be as simple as following his father’s footsteps.
“The way I look at it, the choice is going to be his,” the elder Johnson said. “I went to Michigan because I was comfortable at Michigan. The process was a lot different when I came on. I wanted to play in the Big Ten and Michigan was the best fit for me and where I was comfortable in terms of education and what the program was, and he will do what is best for him. I will not push him in any way. But he’s excited, I’m excited, everybody’s excited.”
What makes the possibility of Johnson becoming a national recruit so great is not only his athletic talent, but what he does in the classroom and away from football, as well.
“Will is over a 3.0 student,” Blackwell said. “Both his parents graduated from Michigan and academics are strong in the family. His sister is a scholarship athlete at Michigan State. He is a high-character kid, very responsible, and has the drive to be a true student-athlete.”
A student-athlete who has been groomed for this for a long time.
So it was fitting that after Johnson announced his offer from Michigan on social media, one of the first to congratulate him was Shane Morris.
“He saw how they prepared themselves and how hard they work,” Deon said. “Growing up and being around them and seeing how hard they work, then when they came back, guys like Jourdan (Lewis), Lavert (Hill), and Ambry (Thomas), and seeing how they still work, being around it, that’s helped a lot.”
Johnson will visit Michigan for the Wolverines’ basketball game against Michigan State on Feb. 24.
Several visitors this weekend
Michigan will host several underclassmen for Saturday’s basketball game against Maryland. Among them will be Port Huron Northern defensive end Braiden McGregor, quickly developing into one of the state’s top recruits. Michigan has offered and is battling many other programs including Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State and more.
Baltimore St. Frances wide receiver Traeshon Holden will be back on campus. Holden (6-3, 185 pounds) is also continuing to add to a lengthy offer list. Michigan is one of those offers and Holden visited for last summer’s BBQ at the Big House. He is a teammate of recent 2020 commit Osman Savage.
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 detroitnews.com.