Tight end glad he decided to sign at WVU
MORGANTOWN - Will Johnson's name will be just one on a lengthy list when West Virginia University Coach Dana Holgorsen announces his first recruiting class today in a press conference at the Puskar Canter.
There will be two dozen or so other names, though that could shrink if kids change their minds and it could grow before the end of the day or the end of the signing period on April 1.
Johnson's name isn't the most recognized. He doesn't have the most stars or the best vertical leap or 40-yard dash time.
No one is bigger, though, and maybe no one is as intriguing in WVU's recruiting class of 2012.
Johnson, who will sign with the Mountaineers this morning in a ceremony at Minnesota's Osseo High with three other teammates, is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound tight end.
WVU didn't use a tight end last season - Holgorsen's first - and actually converted the only scholarship veteran at the position. Tyler Urban became a 6-5, 250-pound slot receiver.
"I'm really excited because I think this is going to be really good for me," Johnson said. "I think a lot of other tight ends are similar to me or at least are in a similar offense in high school and they get hooked into that pro style deal. I wanted to go somewhere to be a part of something different."
Johnson said the Mountaineers offered him just that and won his signature over offers from Miami, Auburn, Ole Miss, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Central Florida. He said Oklahoma and Oregon were interested late in the process, but dropped out once Johnson committed to WVU on Dec. 15.
"I could have gone to one of those places known for tight ends, like Iowa, but I knew there'd be a bunch of guys who'd look just like me and would all do the same things," Johnson said. "West Virginia is going to use you to create mismatches. They've got different ideas for how they use you and to make you more versatile and help you get to the next level."
The other schools to offer Johnson a scholarship have an NFL legacy. Iowa has Kansas City's Tony Moeaki, Buffalo's Scott Chandler, Oakland's Brandon Myers and Indianapolis' Dallas Clark in the NFL. Miami has New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, Carolina's Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen and Tampa Bay's Kellen Winslow Jr. Minnesota's Matt Spaeth plays for Chicago.
WVU has Anthony Becht, a first-round pick in 2000 and the product of a completely different offense. Johnson said this is a completely different time in the NFL.
"What I've noticed most about NFL tight ends is they're starting to become drafted earlier and teams are using tight ends as big-bodied receivers," he said. "They create matchup problems rather than just being the third tackle who catch five-yard routes. That's what I like about West Virginia. They're going to do the same things and use guys like teams use Vernon Davis or Rob Gronkowski or Dallas Clark, who I think started this all."
The experimentation with Urban was a hit during spring football last year and he caught 20 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns during the season. Ten of his receptions were good for first downs. Three were in the red zone, two that ended up in scores.
The Mountaineers were No. 18 in red zone offense in 2011 with 54 scores and 41 touchdowns in 63 possessions. A year earlier, they were No. 105 with 40 scores and 31 touchdowns in 53 possessions.
"The red zone is a good spot for the tight ends," Johnson said. "A corner can't size up with you. A linebacker can't keep up with you. You're more like an athletic, big-bodied, inside receiver who can give the quarterback a big target. They've showed me Xs and Os and I don't even think of it like the tight end position. You're an inside receiver."
Johnson didn't need much more convincing.
He knew about the progress of the offense because he's been watching the Mountaineers for years. He's friends with Roman Collins, a running back at Minnesota's Maple Grove High. His dad is former WVU cornerback Mike Collins.
"I grew up watching a lot of WVU football because of him so I already knew all about them when I got the offer," Johnson said. "Then I started watching close in the Orange Bowl and Tyler didn't play much because he was hurt, but I saw the tempo and the excitement of the offense. That's the way I want to play."
He'll have a chance. Urban graduated. WVU's tallest receivers are 6-3 Ivan McCartney and 6-5 Dante Campbell. Both play the outside. The tallest returning inside receiver is 5-10. The Mountaineers had five receivers committed as of Tuesday and two are candidates for the inside, but not one is taller than 6-2.
Johnson has played two different offenses for Osseo.
The Orioles had two productive running backs this past season and followed them to a 9-2 record and the Section 5A finals. Johnson caught 16 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown. As a junior, Osseo played in a spread system and he had 14 receptions for 169 yards.
"The coaches told me it's up to me," Johnson said. "They'd love to see me play right away and I'd love to have that happen. It's on me to be ready and I'll be ready, no doubt."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.