Coming out of Banneker High School in College Park, Ga., Roderick "Toby" Johnson (Hutchinson, Kan./Hutchinson CC) had no offers to play football at a major college program. Looking back, Johnson feels things could not have gone any better for him.
“I was raw and not ready to play major college football,” Johnson said. “I had only played for one year, so going juco was the best thing that could have happened to me. I really got a lot of one-on-one coaching and I became faster, bigger and more physical.”
Last fall, Johnson recorded 44 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, five passes broken up, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery for the Blue Dragons. Now considered one of the most coveted juco prospects in the 2013 class, he has more than 20 offers from schools across the country -- including Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas A&M, USC and West Virginia -- and he feels Arizona State and FSU could be next to extend scholarships.
He said his phone continues to blow up daily with calls from all directions, but with school and the season approaching Johnson makes sure to limit the distractions.
“I give all college coaches an hour a day to talk and that is it,” Johnson said. “After that they have to wait until the next day or time I am free.”
With plans to graduate in December, Johnson hopes to trim his list down by midseason and make his decision by the seventh game, which would be Oct. 13. There are no favorites, but one conference looks to have the inside track for the 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive tackle.
"I would say there is about a 75 percent chance I sign with an SEC school,” Johnson said.
While he and his family are from Mississippi, Johnson moved to Atlanta with his uncle for high school, in order to get better opportunities. So Johnson knows plenty about the Bulldogs, but coming into this week he still had some questions.
“Everybody in Georgia loves the Bulldogs,” Johnson said. “But I also have a lot of questions for Coach (Mark) Richt when I talk to him. I want him to be straight with me and tell me if I am really going to be able to come in and play.”
Monday night he got the chance to speak with the Bulldogs' head coach, and it seems he got his answers.
"I just talked to Coach Mark Richt for the first time today,” Johnson said. “He said they would have like three guys going to the NFL this year and a junior that might be going, so they want me to play right away.”
The conversation echoed one that Johnson has had with the defensive line coach at Georgia, who has made the juco standout a priority in the 2013 class.
“I talk to Coach (Rodney) Garner all of the time, like once a week,” Johnson said. “Coach Garner says they have guys leaving and I could start and make a big impact right away.”
In 2011, Georgia recruited another prominent juco defensive tackle, one that ESPN college football and NFL draft analyst Todd McShay recently gave his highest grade for the NFL draft. Johnson has seen him play, and he feels his own impact could be similar in Athens.
“Having a chance to watch some film on John Jenkins, I feel like I could do much of the same things he can do,” Johnson said. “It is important to me to find who will help me the most in getting to the next level and what schemes and techniques they will use to get me there. Georgia puts Jenkins in position to make great plays, and I feel their coaches can do that for me, too.”
Because of location, getting Johnson on campus could be huge in regard to Georgia’s chances of signing the coveted defensive lineman.
“I am a big family guy that wants my mom to be able to come to the games,” Johnson said. "I like having the chance to come back home and play. I have my uncle and everybody I know is down there so I would like to give them an opportunity to come see my team play. That is really big for me.
“Coach Richt is a pretty cool guy and I am just looking forward to getting to know him more in person when I take an official there. I like Georgia a lot. I just want to keep building my relationship with them until I make my decision.”