- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006

As reserved wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s career has taken off at Georgia Tech, plenty of praise has rolled in.

So have the nicknames from teammates and coaches.

There’s “Neo,” after the Keanu Reeves character in “The Matrix.” And “The Truth,” a statement about the superiority of his skills.

Then there’s a moniker that really needs no explanation.

“He makes so many plays over our best cornerback, it’s pretty amazing,” said Yellow Jackets right tackle Andrew Gardner, who was also Johnson’s teammate in high school. “Our offensive line coach calls him Superman. You just give them time and they’ll let Superman go and get it.”

Johnson might not be a superhero, but his exceptional play has lifted the No. 18 Yellow Jackets (4-1, 2-0) to the top of the ACC’s Coastal Division entering today’s meeting with Maryland (3-1, 0-0) at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

He leads the ACC in catches (25) and receiving yards (426), and he already has matched a career-high with seven touchdowns. The junior appears to be a lock to be a high pick in the NFL Draft if he leaves after this season, his 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame a perfect fit for the pro game.

Everyone, it seems, wants to talk about Johnson — his future, his outrageous talent, his sheer dominance at the college level in the face of constant double coverage.

Everyone, that is, except Johnson himself.

“It’s just the way I was brought up,” Johnson said. “I’m not real talkative. I let my game speak for itself.”

In a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Johnson politely answered a barrage of questions he no doubt was asked several times before. He shrugged off praise he has received in recent months and mused about how smoothly his career has seemingly gone.

Appropriately, he seemed most interested in something that had nothing to do with catching passes. Over the summer, he participated in a school-sponsored project to design a cost-effective latrine for developing nations.

“We’re trying to find a better way for countries with no water sanitation to have sanitation without catching all the bacteria and diseases,” Johnson said. “We had to come up with a better way for countries in Africa and South America that don’t have efficient water sanitation. We’re trying to go out there and test it out next year.”

Until then, football will remain a priority for Johnson, who Gardner remembered as a “real skinny kid” when they began high school in Tyrone, Ga. He showed glimpses of his potential as a sophomore, then emerged a possible star the next year. Scholarship offers soon followed, and he landed at nearby Georgia Tech.

He needed less than a year to begin building his reputation. In his second game, he caught three touchdowns to help the Yellow Jackets win at Clemson. The next month, he pulled a one-hand catch of a pass zipped well behind him against N.C. State, a play that even now remains his favorite.

“There’s nothing to say if you see it,” Johnson chuckled. “You can’t top that one.”

Nevertheless, he’s trying. Johnson already has three multi-touchdown games, and he has marched into the top five in career yards, receptions and touchdown catches at Georgia Tech in less than three seasons.

There’s even some chatter about the Heisman Trophy, an award no receiver has won since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. Two-touchdown performances in is last two outings — the first a nationally televised rout of Virginia, the second a shredding of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg — have raised his profile, as has the Yellow Jackets’ charge into the rankings.

“I’ve seen zero that has what he has, that much height and that much speed,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “We’ve played a lot of good receivers, but he’s the best. When you put the speed and the size and the good hands, I think he has the knack for positioning his body for going up and catching the ball. He’s a real special talent.”

His presence alone creates opportunities for teammates. Fellow wideout James Johnson rarely faces double coverage. Tailback Tashard Choice averages nearly 5 yards a carry.

Quarterback Reggie Ball, a four-year starter in the midst of his best season, enjoys a greater margin of error because of a large downfield target who can turn incompletions into first downs.

“You’re trying to devise ways for this young man to touch the football and people feel like they have to double cover him, and it singles some other people,” Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. “It changes what you do and what you don’t do fairly significantly.”

It also affects the defense, and Maryland will probably try to put two men on Johnson throughout the day. Most opponents have placed coverage underneath and up top to limit Johnson’s opportunities, but even then the Terps will need solid tackling — not exactly their forte in the first month of the season — and the ability to locate the elusive wideout.

Senior cornerback Josh Wilson, listed as eight inches shorter than Johnson, will probably draw regular coverage. While the ever-confident Wilson is looking forward to the matchup, he also understands the challenge awaiting him in Atlanta.

“That’s an NFL player playing against NCAA players,” Wilson said. “He’s a great player and he’s probably going to be the first or second pick in the draft next year. It wouldn’t surprise me. He can play football on this level not like any receiver I’ve faced.”

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen chortled at the prospect of trying to compare Johnson to another receiver. He settled on Dallas Cowboys wideout Terrell Owens, whose behavior is far different than the circumspect Johnson’s.

Their production is similar, though, which is a serious concern for the Terps.

“I don’t know who else is as big and as fast and as strong as he is. Who is?” Friedgen said. “You name me another guy in college that’s like this kid. They don’t come along every day. I had a chance to meet him [at the ACC kickoff event in July] and he’s a heck of a kid, too. He’s a talent, and I wish he’d hurry up and go out [and] make some money.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide