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Posted on Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 9:49 a.m.

Get to know Drake Johnson, Michigan's newest running back commitment

By Pete Cunningham

So who is this Drake Johnson character?

The latest Michigan football running back commit played his entire high school career in the shadow of Michigan Stadium at Pioneer High School. Because he's just a two-star recruit, he's a relative unknown on the national scene.

Well, he's been on's radar for quite some time. We've been following his exploits since his first game-winning touchdown in 2009.

So, allow us to introduce you to the talented Mr. Johnson:

Related story: Playing for Michigan a dream come true for Ann Arbor native Drake Johnson

Related story: How Drake Johnson's commitment affects Michigan football team's recruiting, courtship of Bri'onte Dunn

Welcome to varsity

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As a sophomore, Drake Johnson wore No. 18 and scored a game-winning touchdown in his very first game on varsity. ( file photo)

As a sophomore, Johnson scored the game-winnning touchdown in his very first varsity game, played against the Devin Gardner-led Inkster Vikings in the Big Day Prep Showdown at Eastern Michigan's Rynearson Stadium.

Trailing, 32-28, Johnson scored a 15-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds remaining. He finished with 13 rushes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson wore No. 18 in that game, and for the year, because he had been called up to be a quarterback, which he played in middle school and ninth grade.

"If I'm going to be a quarterback, might as well be like Peyton Manning," he said of the number choice.

Johnson made the switch to tailback because of an injury to teammate Jeron Clayton and has been there ever since.

Johnson wasn't the only future Wolverine to shine in that game. Gardner was 9-of-13 passing for 114 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 111 yards and a score. Pioneer's Ricardo Miller, now a backup tight end for Michigan, had three catches for 44 yards and placekicker Jeremy Ross, a walk-on at Michigan, was 5-for-5 on extra points.

Johnson finished his sophomore season with 759 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and was a first team Class A All-Washtenaw County selection.

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As a junior, Johnson wore No. 7 and started the season with a six-TD performance against Detroit Cass Tech. ( file photo)

Lucky 7

Officially no longer a quarterback, Johnson switched to No. 7 before his junior season. As he put it, "I wanted a lucky number, ya know, lucky seven."

After being a complementary piece in Pioneer's spread attack as a sophomore, Johnson became Mr. Everything for the Pioneers as a junior.

That was clear from the first game of the year when Pioneer took on Detroit Cass Tech at the Big Day Prep Showdown.

Though Cass Tech won the game, 44-42, Johnson was star of the night. He scored five touchdowns in almost every way imaginable -- a 71-yard punt return, a 41-yard interception return, a 19-yard run and receptions of 18 and 26 yards -- and threw for another while racking up 325 all-purpose yards.

Said then-coach Jeremy Gold of the performance against Cass Tech: "I’ve never witnessed anything like that. ... I was talking with some friends who have been around ball for a while, seen players like Tyrone Wheatley, no one can recall a performance like that out of Drake Johnson Saturday night.”

Johnson would be named to the Division 1-2 Associated Press All-State team after amassing 850 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 137 attempts and catching 17 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns on the season.

Senior Power

And onto this year...where do we even begin?


Johnson switched to No. 2 for his senior season and is currently 133 yards shy of the single season state record for rushing yards

Joseph Tobianski | file photo

Let's start with yet another number change. Now that he finally had seniority in the locker room, Johnson switched to No. 2 because ... he grew up a Michigan fan in Ann Arbor. Do we really have to explain why?

Under the direction of new coach Paul Test, Pioneer became a traditional single-back running team, and when its starting quarterback went down with a torn ACL in Week 2, the offense was thrown on the shoulders of Johnson.

Johnson has proved up to the task, rushing for 2,757 yards and 37 touchdowns on 327 carries this season and has caught a touchdown pass. He has rushed for more than 200 yards for seven consecutive weeks and scored at least three touchdowns in eight consecutive games.

With his 348 yards against Temperance Bedford last week, Johnson surpassed the Washtenaw County record for yards in a season, 2,501, set by Milan's Ron Spears in 2007.

It was Johnson's third game of more than 300 yards this season. He rushed for 394 and six touchdowns in a 52-49 win over Skyline in Week 5 and 395 and five touchdowns in Week 6 against Bedford.

He is currently 133 yards shy of the state record for yards in a season.

He's really, really fast

Johnson is a two-time defending Division 1 state champion in the 110-meter hurdles and placed third as a freshman.

To win his first state title in 2010, Johnson beat out his older brother, Carter Johnson, who took third.

In 2011, Johnson had his sights set on the state-record, but settled for another-first place medal. He said the heat got to him, which exhibited itself later in the day when he was tripped up during the 300 hurdles.

Video highlights

Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached at or by phone at 734-623-2561. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.


1st Down

Thu, Nov 10, 2011 : 11:17 a.m.

The other article listed above mentions that Drake's father is a football coach...that is usually a good sign of a well coached player if the father is a coach as well. I think regardless of star-rankings...Michigan had to offer Drake a scholie. Those numbers are outstanding, and he had good games vs. some of the better teams in the state as well. It would have been hard to not offer him and see him land elsewhere in the Big Ten. Every recruiting class has several highly ranked players that do not pan out, and often leave the school...Id rather see them put the scholarship towards a player who may come in with something to prove...that he is better than the so called experts thought. Go Blue.


Thu, Nov 10, 2011 : 5:43 a.m.

It was mentioned that players pay to go to camps were they get the exposure and the stars and Drake didn't do it. Good for him and great for Michigan landing him. looking at his film he is a tremendous back, excellent speed, cutting ability, and balance. 2 stars by eye!

Terry Star21

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 9:48 p.m.

Wow, this young student athlete continues to impress with the new info presented here - good job Pete. I saw him last Friday, but unknowingly saw him two years ago at Eastern. We were there to watch Gardner and Miller, but remember that winning touchdown. Tate, Denard and other Michigan athletes came and watched him that night - with one of the players telling Tate, 'Here's your competition' (Gardner). Again I welcome Drake to the Michigan program and best wishes for the reminder of his Pioneer career - not just in the remaining football games but the track season as well. MgoBlueForTim................Drake and Purple Reign.......going for the best.


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 9:13 p.m.

I haven't seen him play, so this is not a comparison of talent, but I seem to recall another low-rated running back that nobody recruited named Mike Hart. David Harris (currently starting for the NY Jets) was a similar type of recruit. You just never know...


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 7:35 p.m.

Two star? Who cares. I didn't know that some of these blue chip players can play the recruiting game-something I learned by reading some of the posts. Drake WANTS to come to Michigan. He's a two sport athlete and awesome in both. He will be fun to watch.


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 6:19 p.m.

I've seen this kid play over the years. Michigan made a good decision and got a great player. Go Blue!

David Vande Bunte

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 3:23 p.m.

Everything I have read about him says that the main reason he is only a two-star athlete is because he didn't really play the recruiter game, that it's based on schools not knowing him, so not trying to recruit. Look, the guy is likely going to reach 3,000 rushing yards for the season this weekend in the MHSAA playoffs. 3,000 yards. That alone should have made more schools pay attention. I don't know if he will be the next great Wolverines running back...but when you can point to 3,000 rushing yards in a single season, you have my full attention.