Ga. Tech's quiet Johnson makes point in end zone

Terps face receiver seen as nation's best

October 07, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

He has been compared to the best of the best NFL wide receivers, but when asked once by his high school coach which one he would like to emulate, Georgia Tech star receiver Calvin Johnson said, "None of them."

"He said, `Coach, I ain't gonna be like none of them because they don't act right,'" said Rodney Walker, who coached Johnson at Sandy Creek High in Tyrone, Ga. "That's exactly what he said. I thought that was enough said."

Then again, Johnson doesn't say much - he doesn't have to.

Considered by many to be one of the best playmakers in the country - and famously modest about it - Johnson leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in receiving yards (85.2) and receptions (5.0) per game. He is a major reason Georgia Tech (4-1, 2-0 ACC) enters today's 3:30 p.m. game against Maryland atop the Coastal Division, but he has garnered national attention not only for playing on par with the brash Terrell Owens, but also for being his antithesis.

"That's the thing that makes this guy unique - he goes on the field to work every day, he's a very humble guy, and he's the only junior I've ever had elected here as a captain," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "It tells you something about what kind of a person he is, and he's not a vocal leader. He's not rah-rah or anything like that. He just goes out and works every day to get better."

In his career, Johnson has accounted for nearly 40 percent of Georgia Tech's passing yards and 20 of the team's 38 touchdown catches - despite constant double and triple teams.

To hear him talk about it, though, you'd think it was as ordinary as crossing the street.

"It's just something we do every day as receivers: catch the ball," he said.

What makes him so difficult to defend is his rare combination of a defensive end's intimidating size and a track star's speed. His 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame is deceiving because he runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.

"I've seen zero [players] that have what he has - that much height and that much speed - and we've played against a lot of good receivers," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who watched Johnson make six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-27 upset of the then-11th-ranked Hokies. "I think he has the knack for positioning his body and going up and getting the football. I think he's a real special talent."

Sure, Maryland (3-1) is going to double-team Johnson in its ACC opener today in Atlanta, but the question is how. Everyone has tried double coverage against Johnson.

He still had seven catches for 111 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame - good enough to be named ACC Offensive Back of the Week.

Against Virginia he caught touchdown passes of 58 and 66 yards and had a career-high 165 yards receiving - another ACC Offensive Back of the Week performance. And that was after missing a week of practice with a leg injury.

"He can make a highlight tape that would probably be 10 hours long," Maryland senior cornerback Josh Wilson said. "He makes so many great catches, so many great plays it's just like, `Man, dang, wow, how did he catch that? How did he do that?' He beats coverages like they're just standing there, like these guys aren't Division I football players."

Sandy Creek High, which is about 30 minutes from the Georgia Tech campus, has produced numerous Division I players and a handful of NFL prospects. Georgia Tech's starting left tackle, Andrew Gardner, was a high school teammate of Johnson's. Pro alums include Kedric Goldston (Georgia/Washington Redskins) and Jabari Holloway (Notre Dame/New England Patriots and Houston Texans).

Walker left there in 2005 with more than 250 wins and called Johnson "by far the best blocker I have ever been around on the outside."

There's a 6-4 freshman on that team now, though, with hands that are bigger than Johnson's. His name is Terrell Goodson, and he's wearing Johnson's old jersey number, 81.

Unlike Johnson, he has found somebody worth emulating.

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Maryland@Georgia Tech Today, 3:30 p.m., 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: Georgia Tech by 14

Top target

The importance of Calvin Johnson to Georgia Tech's passing game can be measured. In his career, he has accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Yellow Jackets' passing yards and nearly 30 percent of the team's completions. He has also caught 20 of the team's 38 touchdown passes.

Completions

Year Ga. Tech Johnson Percent

2004 169 48 28.4 2005 197 54 27.4 2006 47 25 53.2 Total 433 127 29.3

Passing yards

Year Ga. Tech Johnson Percent

2004 2,210 837 37.9 2005 2,343 888 37.9 2006 864 426 49.3 Total 5417 2151 39.7

Touchdown catches

Year Ga. Tech Johnson Percent

2004 17 7 41.2 2005 12 6 50 2006 9 7 77.8 Total 38 20 52.6

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