Jim Harbaugh makes influential call in recruitment of four-star TE Theo Johnson

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Allendale, Mich. – Theo Johnson, the four-star tight end from Windsor, was flanked by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and tight ends coach Sherrone Moore during the Best of the Midwest camp at Grand Valley State on Sunday when suddenly Harbaugh took off with Johnson’s cell phone for a chat.

Theo Johnson

On the other end was Johnson’s mother, and Harbaugh was trying to convince her it would be a great idea for her son to work out at Michigan’s skill camp next Monday. Johnson, 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, already is visiting Michigan on June 21. He has narrowed his college destinations where he’d be a freshman in 2020 to Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan.

“He’s like, ‘Yeah, anybody can come to visit. We love you. We want to see you move around,’” Johnson said Sunday, referring to his conversation with Harbaugh. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know because our school goes to the 26th of June.' That’s when my last exam is. So I’m like, ‘I’m studying for exams and stuff.’ So he’s like, ‘Well, let me talk to her. Call her up.’ He talked to her and I think I might be going there on the 10th now to go to a camp there.”

Such is the persuasive nature of Harbaugh, who assured Johnson’s mother that because the camp is late in the afternoon he wouldn’t miss any school

“I have a pretty good relationship with him,” Johnson said of Harbaugh. “We’ve talked on the phone a few times. It’s gotten to the point now we can have a regular conversation. We’re pretty cool with each other. I’m pretty comfortable with him, Coach (Josh) Gattis and Coach Moore. I’m really comfortable with all of them. We’ve built a pretty good relationship over time.”

Johnson’s first football camp was last summer at the Best of the Midwest, where he also received his first offer. There were approximately 900 high school players at the camp Sunday.

“I didn’t have any looks until I came here,” he said.

Michigan offered him a scholarship last fall, but in the offseason, Harbaugh made changes to his staff, including the hiring of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who is changing the Wolverines offense to a no-huddle pro spread. His offensive philosophy is “speed in space.” Gattis was co-offensive coordinator at Alabama last season.

“I’ve gotten to know him pretty well, and I’m looking forward to see how the offense runs this season,” Johnson said. “A lot of stuff Michigan is doing, when they’re showing the guys how they’re going to be doing stuff, they show them the Alabama film. Coach Moore told me he’s looked over all their film. They’re going to be doing a lot of similar stuff that Alabama did last year.”

Speaking of Alabama, Johnson met Tide coach Nick Saban for the first time last week.

“We were on FaceTime earlier this week,” Johnson said. “It was good to meet him. He was kind of like straight to it. He laid out everything for me. He explained to me what their situation is and he gave me a general idea of how they do things with their team, his philosophy. Pretty much how they run their team. It was more of a general call, just letting me know what their situation is. As we move on, I might get a more person relationship with him.”

Jim Harbaugh

When asked about his strengths, Johnson asked if that was meant on or off the field. He was happy to share both.

“I’m a bigger body, but I’m still pretty quick and can run a 4.67, so I think that’s something that kind of gives me the upper hand, to be able to be big and still be able to run quick,” he said. “I run pretty good routes. For the longest time I was a receiver so I run good routes like a receiver. My brother’s (Dominic) a quarterback so I have good ball skills just because we’d throw the ball hours and hours, just me and him. That’s definitely a strength of mine.

"I’d say a strength off the field, I’m really good at talking to people. I have good people skills. That’s a little fun fact about me.”

Another fun fact is that although he grew up not far from Ann Arbor, his first game at Michigan Stadium was last season against Penn State.

“I moved to Windsor in sixth grade, so I didn’t grow up in the culture there because Windsor is pretty much like Michigan,” he said. “Everyone’s huge Michigan fans there. Everybody loves Michigan.”

While Johnson has narrowed his list to seven schools, he is still working to schedule visits before making a determination about his future.

“I do not have a favorite,” he said. “If I could make a decision right now, I would make a decision because I would just love to know where I’m going and be able to start work toward things. I’m just not at the point I could comfortably choose between the ones I am looking at right now. I still have to take some more visits and analyze things. There’s not one I’d say I’m favoring over another.

“You can tell (my mother) wants me to stay a little closer, but at the same time she realizes at the end of the day, wherever best fits for me, that’s really what matters. Whether it’s a little bit farther down south or it’s an hour way, if it’s the best fit, that’s all that matters to us.”

Johnson said he will definitely sign in December and will be an early-enrollee in January.

“I’m hoping to have everything wrapped up by the end of October,” he said. “That’s my goal. If you asked me six months ago when I’d be done, I’d say sometime in the summer. I’m not trying to drag it on any longer than I have to. It’s wearing on me a little bit, but I don’t want to rush the decision. I want to make sure whatever decision I make, I’m 100 percent comfortable with it. I’m not going to be one of the guys decommitting and recommitting and all that stuff. I want to make sure I’m making one decision and it’s the right decision.”