Denzel Johnson started playing football to be a good example for his younger brother. He had no clue that becoming a football player would have such a big impact on his own future.
“When I was in eighth grade and my little brother started playing Pop Warner football, I said I had to play. I had to get him right,” Johnson said.
By the end of that first season of middle school football, Johnson was in love with the game. Making the game-winning touchdown reception in a middle school championship game solidified his identity as a football player.
Passion for the game and his desire to be a role model combined to drive Johnson to the top of South Carolina’s 2015 recruiting class. His drive has garnered attention from 10 major programs and four scholarship offers so far – from Clemson, Notre Dame, South Carolina State and Liberty.
Johnson, a 6-foot-2 wide receiver and defensive back for the A.C. Flora Falcons, is a three-star prospect, ranked 25th in the state by 247Sports.
To the Falcons’ staff, it’s clear why Johnson’s stock is so high.
“For the first two years, he just had some really great players in front of him at wide receiver,” Cagle said. Players such as Schroder Carlton and Shelton Whittaker were getting most of the playing time at wideout through his sophomore season, when Cagle decided to try to use him more on defense.
“When we put him back there, with him and Rion Davis, we’ve got two safeties that are pretty good, so we felt really good about that,” Cagle said.
Coach Reggie Shaw knew before the 2013 season started that Johnson was about to do something major on the defensive side of the ball.
“The first scrimmage we had, he just dominated the wide receiver – he didn’t give up anything,” Shaw said.
As expected, Johnson had his breakout season at defensive back as a junior, and the offers followed.
Although he still enjoys playing wideout and works hard to improve his skill at the position, Johnson understands that he likely will be a fulltime defensive back. He believes he can handle the job.
“I feel like, at DB, I know more, since I play wide receiver and I’m good at it. I understand what to do against wide receivers,” Johnson said.
But offensive coordinator Dustin Curtis said otherwise.
“As a wideout, he understands coverages a whole lot better since he’s playing defensive back, and he is a better receiver because of that,” Curtis said. “It surprises me that he doesn’t have more attention as a wide receiver, because his ball skills are so natural.”
Although Johnson did not have as many opportunities to shine early on, Curtis expects him to have a big impact on the Falcons’ offense this season.
“He’s gotten a whole lot faster the last two years. When a kid has that kind of explosiveness, those kind of ball skills, it really does take two guys to cover him,” he said. “If he’s one-on-one, I’ll throw it to him. It doesn’t matter what DB is over there, he’ll make a play.
“He works very hard to be a more consistent receiver, not just an athlete out there playing receiver,” Curtis said.