Heading into May, the Texas Longhorns already had commitments at almost every position, but a huge hole remained: defensive tackle. Despite a shortage on the roster, the Horns didn’t have a single DT committed for ’09, but that has changed in a hurry. Two weeks ago Calvin Howell gave his verbal to the Horns and on Wednesday, Hoxie, Ark. DT Derek Johnson became Texas commit No. 19.
It’s a long drive from Hoxie, Ark. to Austin, Tex., but on Wednesday, defensive tackle Derek Johnson and his head coach, Tom Sears, made the nine-hour trek to see Texas and speak with Mack Brown.
The trip was certainly not in vain.
Last week, Sears told Inside Texas that Johnson was “approved to receive an offer from Texas”, but that Brown wanted to meet the Hoxie DT in person before giving the official, written scholarship offer. On Wednesday that meeting happened, Johnson received his offer and he immediately committed.
According to Johnson, it wasn’t a hard decision.
“Texas is the best football program,” said Johnson. “The coaches are nice and real down to Earth.”
Johnson said it was also an easy decision because the Longhorns have been his favorite team for a long time.
“I’ve always been a Texas fan,” said Johnson.
Much of that has to do with the fact that he lived for many years in the state of Texas. In the second grade, Johnson moved from his home state of Arkansas to El Paso and lived there until the ninth grade. It was during those formative years that he began watching a great deal of college football and the Texas Longhorns. He continued to follow Texas, even after moving back to Arkansas and mentioned the Horns’ two Rose Bowl victories as having a strong influence on him.
So, at the beginning of the recruiting process he told Sears that Texas was one of his favorite schools. Sears called the Texas coaches to let them know a talented defensive tackle from Hoxie, Ark. was interested in coming to UT and the process went from there.
On Wednesday, Johnson’s high expectations for Texas were surpassed and he gave his verbal commitment.
But Johnson wasn’t the only one on the trip impressed with Texas. In his time as a high school coach, Sears has never dealt with the Longhorns before, so the meeting with Brown was his first, as was his visit to the UT campus. Turns out, Texas made quite an impression on Johnson’s coach as well.
“I was very, very impressed,” said Sears. “I’ve met a lot of different coaching staffs and Texas is right there among the best. They’re personable from bottom to top and Mack Brown’s demeanor trickles down to the other coaches. The coaches and the players enjoy being there.”
One of the most important things Sears took away from his visit, though, is a sense of comfort about how the Horns are going to treat his star defensive lineman.
“I feel fantastic about him going there,” said Sears. “It’s a great place.”
Sears said the coaches were very informative on the visit, answering all of his and Johnson’s questions as they toured the facilities in Austin. In their meetings with the Texas defensive coaches, one of the most consistent messages they received was about how Johnson needed to be ready to play, because his services may be required very soon.
“They’re very excited about him,” said Sears. “There’s going to be a shortage of D-linemen when he gets there. They told him to be ready to play.”
According to Sears, Johnson will have no problem being ready. The 6-3, 300-pound DT has great natural athleticism, but Sears said his greatest strength is the tenacity he shows on each and every play.
“He has a great demeanor about getting to the football. You know how some defensive linemen will stop and watch a play? Not Derek. He’s going all out to get to that ball,” said Sears.
Seems the Longhorns agree. As Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp sat and watched Johnson’s film with his two visitors from Arkansas, he discussed his future plans for Johnson. Defensive tackle is an obvious spot, but, according to Johnson, he will also be used at Texas, situationally, as a defensive end.
Weighing 300 pounds is quite heavy for a DE, but the big man can move, clocking a personal best in the 40 at 4.9 seconds. Speed isn’t all he’s got, though. Johnson has a 330-pound bench press, a 500 squat, a 300 power clean and, as Sears put it when Inside Texas last spoke with him, an “unreal” 720-pound dead lift.
In recruiting, the Longhorns were not the only ones after Johnson. Along with Texas, he had offers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kansas and Arkansas State. In the end, UT won out over them all.
“I had a lot of choices but I went with the best one,” said Johnson.