CLAYTON — Sterling Johnson already has college scholarships from some of the top college football programs in the country and before he signs next year experts believe he'll have 30 or 40 offers.
Clemson made the first offer last November. This winter there has been a steady parade of college coaches visiting the school and making offers.
Johnson, 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, has gotten offers from Ohio State, South Carolina and national champion Florida State within the past two weeks. They joined Florida, N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
“It all built slowly after the Clemson offer,” Johnson said. “We’d start to get a couple of coaches in there a week about mid-December and it’s really picked up in the last few weeks.”
The explosion of interest is nothing new when it comes to top prospects from North Carolina, according to Michael Clark, the Atlantic recruiting analyst for scout.com, which has Johnson rated as the No. 20 defensive line prospect nationally in the class of 2015.
“Sterling is a great player,” Clark said. “It just sometimes takes guys a little bit longer for the word to get out and their tape to make the rounds. … North Carolina talent is growing, with this year’s class and a 2015 class that is loaded, but it still takes some time for word to get out that these elite guys in the state can play on a national level.”
Johnson has tried to take the attention in stride and Cleveland coach Marc Morris raves about how level-headed Johnson has stayed through the process.
The junior standout used to spend about two hours a day playing a college football video game or watching TV. Now he spends that time juggling phone calls, texts, in-person visits and mail from the top football programs in the nation.
Johnson knows it is important that the analytical side take over as he prepares to make the biggest decision of his life. That’s why he’s started to watch and follow college teams differently with an eye on how he would fit in there.
“I watch the defensive schemes a lot more and how coaches coach during a game,” Johnson said. “I like seeing how teams react in a game. Like the Clemson comeback against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl when they were about to get blown out. Clemson responded well.”
When Clark looks at Johnson on tape he sees a player who will only get better.
“You watch so much film of big guys, but here’s a legit, 6-5, 270-ish-pound young man with a great frame, one you could put more weight on easily,” Clark said. “Sometimes you watch linemen on tape and they’re just big, but Sterling has that dominating size and he makes big plays consistently. The blend of size, quickness and his great hands set Sterling apart.”
When Johnson looks ahead to next season he wants to be better at making plays down the line of scrimmage.
“Like against Orange (a 59-50 loss in the second round of the 3AA playoffs), I was lined up at nose guard (across from the center) and I wasn’t quick enough to get to the edge to tackle guys on sweeps, around the end of the line,” Johnson said. “If my closing speed gets better, I’ll tackle better.”
Johnson’s goals for the 2014 high school season are simple: help lead Cleveland to a state championship and play in one of the All-American football games next January. If he reaches the second goal, Johnson says he will announce his college choice then.
Clark expects that to be quite a decision.
“I think his ranking is going to go up,” Clark said. “He’s a really high three-star guy but that could go up and up and up. He’s a great kid, student – like nine out of 10 of the guys in North Carolina are – so I’d fully expect him to have easily 30-40 scholarship offers.”
So Johnson has started to see how schools fit into his career path as well. He wants to go into sports broadcasting and seems to have the voice for it: a deep, confident but measured tone.
“I always felt like I’d play in college growing up,” Johnson said. “So if I could play in college, then end up working on ‘College GameDay’ once football’s over, that would be ideal.”
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