Gary Johnson made it out.
The Texas Longhorns linebacker, who is set to compete for a starting job next to junior Malik Jefferson when preseason camp begins next week, wasn’t always guaranteed to make it out of Douglas, Alabama.
A small town of less than 1,000 people northeast of Birmingham, Douglas has its share of problems, like much of rural Alabama — nearly 70 percent of the students at Johnson’s high school are economically disadvantaged and only 15 percent of students in the district are proficient at mathematics.
So it’s not particularly surprising that Johnson had to go the junior college route after to qualify out of high school.
To escape any “outside influences” that might have kept him from realizing his dream of playing big-time football, Johnson left Alabama for another small town — Dodge City, Kansas, the home of the Conquistadors, a community college with a reputation for helping players like Johnson.
Initially committed to Alabama, Johnson was forced to reopen his recruitment due to the stringent academic requirements the SEC places on junior college prospects, eventually committing to Texas in January despite holding nearly 30 offers from around the country.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando sold Johnson on his ability to make an instant impact in his defense with his speed and striking ability.
In fact, tales of Johnson’s speed are now somewhat legendary — he won the 100m in Alabama with a time of 10.59 seconds at over 200 pounds. And he didn’t even use a starting block.
There are even reports from offseason conditioning that Johnson can match the speed of wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who ran a 10.27 100m and a 4.38 40-yard dash in high school.
And, in what is quickly becoming a recurring theme in recent weeks, Johnson is also benefiting from working with strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight, adding weight after he was listed at 211 pounds on National Signing Day.
He’s now reportedly around 220 pounds, development that has largely been enabled by the Texas training table — he’s now receiving three mandatory meals a day, which is a stark change from his time at Dodge City, when neither of the two meals he ate were mandatory.
“He looks a lot bigger than he did,” said senior linebacker Naashon Hughes at Big 12 Media Days. “He looked a little hungry when he first got here.”
Johnson is still hungry to achieve, however — his Twitter feed follows a consistent theme:
It seem like I'm dreaming , somebody pinch me , am I supposed to be in the spot that I'm in , is this really real pic.twitter.com/ALFLt3OLFK— I Hate QB's & RB's (@_GaryJohnson) July 25, 2017
Tell me that I don't deserve to ball pic.twitter.com/J0qG2ypKO7— I Hate QB's & RB's (@_GaryJohnson) July 26, 2017
And so while he hasn’t yet achieved his ultimate goals of buying a house for his mother, taking care of his family, and giving back to the next generation of kids growing up like he did, Johnson is a long way from Douglas, Alabama.
If he manages to fulfill his significant potential in burnt orange and white, Austin won’t be the last stop on his football journey.