Michigan offered Phoenix Pinnacle junior quarterback J.D. Johnson in December shortly after one of their targets, Harrison Bailey, announced for Tennessee.
Johnson was the only quarterback the Wolverines offered during this time.
He made the long trip to Ann Arbor shortly after receiving the offer and committed to Michigan soon after that visit.
Johnson’s story is a little different than that of most other Power 5 quarterback recruits, because he is at the same school as the No. 1 quarterback prospect (per the 247Sports Composite) in the 2019 class, Oklahoma signee Spencer Rattler.
The situation is unusual but not unprecedented as recently, Dorian Thompson-Robinson (who Michigan offered) was a highly regarded prospect and signed with UCLA despite waiting his turn behind blue-chip Ohio State signee Tate Martell. Within the state of Michigan, Wolverines’ commit Shane Morris’ backup Giovanni Rescigno bided his time, played when Morris was sick or injured, and wound up signing with Rutgers and starting a number of games for the Scarlet Knights.
Johnson entered his junior season having impressed Arizona into a scholarship offer during the summer camp season. He was the MVP at a USC camp with hundreds of quarterbacks at it. He had similarly strong performances at Cal and Washington’s camps. When Rattler injured his ankle in week two, Johnson was ready to go. He went 14-of-17 for 250 yards and three touchdowns in a 56-34 victory over Phoenix Mountain Pointe.
It would have been easy for Johnson to have assumed he would not see the field and not be prepared to play or to transfer schools, but that is not how he approached his situation.
“He never pouted about things,” said Mike Giovando, who trains both Johnson and Rattler at Elev8 Quarterback Academy. “He is not that kind of kid at all. He could have said, ‘Hey I can leave’ but he had the thought process of, I can go somewhere else and play or stay here and support my teammates, and in his mind, he would tell you he couldn’t improve anywhere else like he could behind Spencer every day. He sets the bar. They both have trained together with me for five or six years, so I think JD thought, I’m going to get better and go compete against the best quarterback in the country every day.”
Johnson comes from a football family. His father, a coach, brought him to Giovando when he was in the sixth grade. Giovando noted his length right away, then the natural arm talent even at that age.
“Afterwards, his dad said, ‘You think we got something?’ and I said, oh yeah, you will be fine,” Giovando recalled. “I told them to stick with me and stay the course and they would definitely have something.”
A violation of school policy forced Rattler out late in the season and Johnson took back over and won two playoff games before Pinnacle fell in the third. He finished 91-of-151 for 1,353 yards, 10 touchdowns, and six interceptions on the season. South Carolina, Oregon State and Colorado State had also offered by this point, but his visit sealed the deal for Michigan.
Giovando believes the Wolverines are getting a lot of ability.
“He is a tall kid, very athletic for 6-foot-4 with a good body, great frame, all the things you’re looking for,” he said. “He has good footwork and understands pocket presence. He is a pocket guy, but can get out of the pocket to make plays easily as well. He is smart, has a high IQ. He has a strong arm. We had a quarterback camp this weekend and at the end of camp, we were having some fun with a deep ball competition and he let it go 63 yards. He will be able to throw it 65-70 yards — he may never need to in a game — but he has all those things.”
With recruiting now behind him, Johnson is also able to focus on being the full-time starter next season and to compete at Michigan beyond that.
“We will do more field work and more classroom work this year,” Giovando said. “We are getting prepared for the mental part of it with him, teach him the game, so when he gets to Michigan, his football IQ is high and the throwing part of it is nothing.”
Michigan now has five commitments in the 2020 class.
UM extends offer to 2020 TE
Windsor (Ontario) Holy Names tight end Theo Johnson was offered by Michigan on Wednesday night.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Johnson camped at Michigan in the summer and visited for the Wolverines’ game against Penn State in the fall. The Nittany Lions were considered the leader for Johnson prior to Michigan’s offer.
Johnson will attend a junior day in Ann Arbor later in the month.
Michigan recently has had success recruiting Canadian players with Benjamin St. Juste and Luiji Villain among those who are on the roster.
Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.