Safety recruit Carvin Johnson brings winning ways, work ethic to Michigan
New Orleans Archbisop Rummel coach Jay Roth knew he had a special breed of football player the minute he met Carvin Johnson.
A mid-year transfer after starting as a freshman at a New Orleans-area public school, Johnson showed up in Roth’s office one day three years ago and said, “Coach, I was at a program where the kids showed up late for practice and they weren’t held accountable and the coach didn’t work as hard as I want to be worked. I want to be challenged.”
“That tells me a lot about the kid,” Roth said. “He walked in my door and said this is what I want, this is what I’m looking for in your program. I didn’t get it from this program I just left.
“He’s a different kid. Very intense kid, look you in the eye, shake your hand firmly, hang on every word you say. And he’s not accustomed to losing. He doesn’t care for it too much.”
A 6-foot-1, 190-pound safety who committed to Michigan last fall over offers from Utah, Minnesota and Northwestern, Johnson didn’t lose much at Rummel.
He sat out the first seven games of his sophomore season as a transfer, but helped the Raiders reach the state quarterfinals when he finally got on the field.
As a junior, Johnson led Rummel to the second round of the playoffs, and this year he captained a team that finished 14-1 and lost in the state championship game to West Monroe, a team that finished the season ranked fourth nationally in USA Today’s Super 25.
Johnson was an easy all-state selection, intercepting seven passes as a defensive back and returning two punts for touchdowns.
Roth, who coached Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Troy Kropog and former Ohio State defensive tackle Nader Abdallah in high school, said Michigan is “getting a steal” in Johnson.
“He’s a ballhawk,” Roth said. “He’s not afraid to come up and hit people. He’ll play close to the line. I can’t tell you how many times he made tackles for 0- to 2-yard gains, just coming up and recognizing run. He’s got some huge paws that are always grabbing the football, and he’s a heck of a return guy for us. I don’t know if he’ll do that at the college level, but he can break tackles.”
Johnson said he expects to play free safety at Michigan, where the Wolverines flimsy depth chart “played a significant role” in his commitment. Walk-on Jordan Kovacs and the underachieving Mike Williams started at free safety last year.
“Coaches told me that if I come in and work out hard I can be on the field,” Johnson said. “Work hard and fight for that position, I can get it.”
Another factor in Johnson’s commitment was the bond he developed with Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, his recruiting contact and a Louisiana native, and the rest of the Wolverines’ staff.
Along with Jackson, head coach Rich Rodriguez, who coached at Tulane, and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, a New Orleans native, have Louisiana ties.
In fact, the Wolverines learned of Johnson, who flew under the recruiting radar much of the fall, thanks to Magee’s ties to Roth. The two played football at opposing New Orleans high schools in the 1980s - Magee went to Booker T. Washington, Roth to Rummel - and attended rival state colleges (Magee played at Southern, Roth at Nicholls State).
“Other schools came through and offered him and that was it,” Roth said. “They said we’re offering you, if you’re interested, that was it. Michigan, not only did they offer him, they stayed on him. I think those guys saw something in him that they needed. I hear they had some walk-ons that played safety for them this year. They think he can help immediately.”
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.