UGA commit Rico Johnson exudes speed

The past two months have been a whirlwind for Rico Johnson (Swainsboro, Ga./Swainsboro). The 5-foot-11, 172-pound athlete put himself on the radar with an impressive performance at the Charlotte NFTC, but no offers had come in for the in-state sleeper. What Johnson did earn was an invite to the Mark Richt Camp in June, and an opportunity to impress the coaching staff at the University of Georgia.

Johnson did not disappoint. After running blistering 40 times of 4.25 and 4.28 seconds, and making play after play at cornerback, Johnson was asked to line up at wide receiver. The unheralded athlete was able to burn cornerbacks left and right – and he earned a coveted offer from the Bulldogs. He wasted little time accepting the scholarship and accomplishing the dream of thousands of high school athletes.

To Johnson, though, there is something beyond just playing FBS football.

“I am really excited about putting on for my state in the red and black,” Johnson said. “That is the most important thing for kids growing up in this state. To have a chance to play for the Dawgs is something special.”

Last week, Johnson was back in Athens for Dawg Night, and after touring the campus during the day he was one of the few commitments to take the field that night. While his future teammates took in the event on the sidelines, Johnson, who did not participate in the 40 this time around, reveled in the opportunity to catch passes from an ESPN 150 prospect.

“It was amazing being able to compete at Sanford Stadium,” Johnson said. “There is nothing in the world like playing between the hedges with the lights on. They put me and Brice Ramsey together like every play, running posts and comebacks. That is the best quarterback I have ever caught passes from.”

As Johnson left the stadium, he was flush with emotion.

“That was when it hit me,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is my dream. I am going to play for Georgia.’ ”

While he has yet to achieve the acclaim of some of the other prospects in the 2013 class, the coaches in Athens have high hopes for what Johnson can do for them next fall.

“I was just exchanging Facebook messages with Mike Bobo, and he said with the speed I have on offense that I should come in and start as a true freshman, as long as I continue to improve on my route running,” Johnson said. “That was great to hear, as I think I can be a great speed player that comes in and makes plays downfield at the slot.”

It is that speed that helped Johnson find success at the GHSA State Track Meet, and why he is confident he will be able to contribute down the road for Georgia.

“I won state in the 100 and I came second in the 200,” Johnson said. “My best time in the 100 is 10.50 and my best time in the 200 is 21.60. I told James DeLoach, Blake Tibbs and Quayvon Hicks when I was hanging out with them Friday night that I wanted to race Keith Marshall and Malcolm Mitchell when I get there.”

Johnson says he is not alone in that regard among the commits, but he is doing his best to make sure more help is on the way. He has a message for the other talented prospects in the Peach State.

“This class has outstanding speed on both sides of the ball, and I am talking to other uncommitted prospects in the state about joining this special group,” Johnson said. “I want every prospect that has an offer from Georgia to take a closer look, because they have a great coaching staff that really treats you like family and looks out for you. There is no better feeling than being a Bulldog. I bonded with all of the commits at Dawg Night, and I stay in touch with Tray Matthews (Newnan, Ga./Newnan) and Shaq Wiggins (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek). They are all great guys.”

No longer staying in touch with other college programs, Johnson says he is focused on Georgia and his upcoming season -- one that comes with raised expectations.

“I think I am improving on my route running a lot this summer,” Johnson said. “The pressure is on me to show out because I got the UGA offer, but I am ready to have a big senior season and prove my ability is for real.”