USC Gamecocks Football

LB David Johnson has goal to start as a freshman

David Johnson
David Johnson GoGamecocks

South Carolina didn't have to do anything different in recruiting David Johnson when other colleges came calling for his services during his senior year.

Vanderbilt, Auburn, N.C. State, Mississippi State, Pitt and Syracuse were among the schools that came by Lithonia High in Lithonia, Ga., to see the linebacker this past fall. Johnson even took an official visit to Vanderbilt in January.

The Gamecocks' approach didn't change. It didn't have to, Johnson's coach said.

"They kept doing the same thing they've been doing, treating him like a family member," Lithonia High coach Marcus Jelks said.

Johnson committed to South Carolina in May 2012, signed in February and enrolled in June.

He built a strong relationship with defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who recruited Johnson since his 10th grade season.

"They always showed me love," Johnson said. "They never gave me the cold shoulder. They always stayed on me. Some schools came by and I wouldn't hear from them in awhile. Coach Ward came by the school all the time. He made sure I was coming to South Carolina. We're as close as two peas in a pod after two years."

Johnson also has a great relationship with current Gamecock and former Lithonia standout Cedrick Cooper.

"I know he's going to watch out for me," Johnson said. "It's great because I'm going to walk in an know people when I get there. He's going to push me. Cedrick always pushed me in high school. He never let me slack off or fall behind, even when I wanted to. I'm ready to get to work."

Johnson was one of four linebackers who signed with the Gamecocks in February, joining Larenz Bryant of Charlotte; Skai Moore of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Jonathan Walton of Daphne, Ala. With South Carolina losing four senior linebackers, each recruit was sold on the idea that immediate playing time was a real possibility.

Johnson, who is 6-foot-1, is the heaviest of the bunch. USC listed him at 268 pounds when he signed, though he said he's closer to 250.

"He's an SEC-sized linebacker," said Mike Farrell, national analyst for Rivals. "That's what you look for with guys who are going to play right away. You can't be 210 pounds and jump right into the SEC as a linebacker and be able to take on the offensive linemen and the running backs and wide receivers you are going to face. He's not that tall but he's big enough to come in and compete right away."

Johnson drew plenty of attention to himself with 109 total tackles, nine sacks, 19 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles an interception and a fumble recovery.

His goal is to be a starter as a true freshman. Simply earning playing time will be rewarding as well, he said.

Coaches and recruiting analysts rave about Johnson's motor.

"They like his attentiveness," Jelks said. "He's very aggressive. They like the fact that he's going 100 percent every play."

As for the notion that Johnson could be a sleeper of the 2013 signing class, Jelks agrees. Sort of.

"Everyone will realize what they have in him," Jelks said. "He'll blow up. He's not a kid who will sit back and take a back seat. He's going to get there and challenge people to play right away."