Todd Orlando’s debut season as the Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator was already on pace to feature one of the nation’s premier linebacking corps, which officially received a another significant addition on National Signing Day as top-ranked JUCO inside linebacker Gary Johnson put pen to paper.
LB Gary Johnson is officially a Longhorn. Johnson is the #8 prospect in the ESPN JC 50. pic.twitter.com/VjwmMUh3gE— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) February 1, 2017
In a 2017 class that Tom Herman and his staff to scrambled to complete in just three months, Johnson’s immediate value and importance simply can’t be overstated. A former Alabama commit, the Johnson-to-Texas momentum kicked in quick and lasted a mere matter of weeks.
After picking up a Texas offer on Jan. 4, Johnson scheduled an officially visit to the Forty Acres for Jan. 20, but switched visit weekends with Oregon, which was set to host the elite JUCO product on Jan. 13. Johnson’s visit to Texas then produced raving reviews and the following week, the nation’s No. 6 JUCO prospect pulled the trigger and committed to the Longhorns on Jan. 20 — he then canceled his pending visits to Oregon and USC, becoming the most likely 2017 starter from Texas’ 2017 recruiting haul.
Enjoyed my official visit @Longhorn_FB great people and fan base even better atmosphere #hookem pic.twitter.com/6rdhQdkAAO— I Hate QB's & RB's‼️ (@_GaryJohnson) January 15, 2017
As Orlando brings his 3-4 defense to Austin, Johnson bolsters the second line of defense as a legitimate option to become a day one starter alongside of bevy of talent and experience.
A physically elite middle linebacker, Johnson was simply too much to handle at Dodge City C.C. In his two seasons, Johnson produced 215 total tackles, along with 11.5 sacks, 27.5 tackles for loss, nine forced fumbles and five interceptions; three of which were returned for touchdowns.
Now, as the Alabama native takes his talents from Kansas to Austin, Johnson fits as a perfect piece in a linebacking corps that features junior-to-be Malik Jefferson, who should be able to slide into his more natural role as a weak-side edge rusher, along with 2016’s two leading tacklers in juniors-to-be Breckyn Hager (65) and Anthony Wheeler (60). Not to mention, Orlando will also have a bevy of young talent to fill out his depth chart with Jeffrey McCulloch, Malcolm Roach, Erick Fowler and three-star Marqez Bimage incoming.
Johnson, a likely starter among a multitude of talent, recently expanded on what he brings to the Longhorns defense, per Lone Star Sports Radio:
“I’m just going to say this: When I’m on the field I’m relentless,” Johnson told Lone Star Sports Radio. “I feel like there is no stopping me no matter what you throw at me or who you put in front of me. That’s something they’re just going to get out of me every game is that mentality that I can’t be stopped and you can’t stop me.”
“Just put the game and the team on my back,” Johnson said. “That’s just what type of player I’ve always been and I plan on being that player at Texas.”
A freakishly physical and aggressive presence with a recorded 4.26 40 yard dash and a 39.4 in vertical leap, there’s likely not many athletes capable of slowing Johnson down among the college ranks. Whether it’s against the run or pass, Johnson consistently displays incredible instincts and has remarkable striking ability. He habitually puts himself in the right position at the right time and often explodes through the ball carrier or quarterback in blitz situations, which Orlando plans to utilize plenty of next season.
Despite Texas’ talent and depth, expect Johnson to emerge as a focal point of the Longhorns defense in 2017.
Here’s another evaluation of Johnson from Ian Boyd of Inside Texas:
How he fits at Texas: Johnson could be one of the most important recruits of the 2017 class. He’s ultra-quick playing in the box and can scrape laterally as well as anyone on the roster but with a much better idea of what he’s trying to accomplish. This is what an ideal, modern inside linebacker looks like. Johnson is quick and smart enough to handle option or spread passing schemes but also sturdy enough to fill inside and handle lead run schemes. He would probably start at mike linebacker immediately for Texas, pushing Orlando to get creative with guys like Ed Freeman and Malik Jefferson.
A consensus four-star prospect with 28 offers, Johnson chose the Longhorns over a host of Power 5 programs including Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon, TCU, and USC.