Lions add more speed with new defensive recruit

By Philip Cmor

pcmor@altoonamirror.com

Last Friday, the Penn State football program received a verbal commitment from one of the quickest offensive players in the class of 2017.

The Nittany Lions now have landed one of the fastest on the other side of the ball.

U.S. Army All-American cornerback Donovan Johnson of Michigan prep power Cass Tech made his pledge to the Nittany Lions on Monday night, choosing Penn State over Virginia Tech to bring the number of members in the Big Ten Conference’s champions recruiting class to 17.

That number could increase by one on Saturday, when Clairton five-star corner Lamont Wade is scheduled to announce from among Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, UCLA and Tennessee — the Lions are considered Wade’s likeliest destination.

Johnson’s commitment to the Lions comes hot on the heels that of another Wolverine State four-star recruit, receiver/return specialist K.J. Hamler on Friday. Johnson had just come back from an official visit to University Park over the weekend, but he waited to go back home before finalizing his choice.

West Virginia, Arizona, Oregon and Wisconsin were among the other colleges that recruited Johnson hardest. He also had offers from the likes of Missouri, Nebraska and Tennessee.

“I took a visit there, talked to the coaches, hung out with some of the players and took a look around campus, checked out the facilities,” Johnson said to the Detroit News about his decision. “Everything is first-rate.”

Interestingly, neither Michigan nor Michigan State offered the four-star defensive back a scholarship. The apparent reason is a lack of size: Johnson is 5-foot-10, 176 pounds.

However, what Johnson lacks in height he makes up for in athletic ability. In July in Oregon, Johnson tied for the second-best 40-yard dash time at “The Opening” — a combine designed for the best of the nation’s best — with a mark 4.35 seconds and posted the fastest short shuttle time of 3.83 seconds.

He also vertical jumped 37 inches at a combine in Michigan in May. Johnson ran the 100 meters in 11.07 seconds for Cass Tech in the spring, the fifth-fastest time in school history.

“He’s explosive, elusive and very athletic,” Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher said of Johnson. “He just knows how to make big plays.”

Johnson was named first team all-state after helping the Technicians finish 14-0 and win the Michigan Division 1 championship. According to the Detroit Free Press, he intercepted three passes, broke up 10 and made 32 tackles his senior year.

He also put up some outstanding numbers as a wingback, rushing for 987 yards on 76 carries, scoring 15 touchdowns. He returned three kicks for scores, too.

“Technician with good feet to go with instincts and awareness. Anticipates routes well and has the closing speed and flexibility to jump those routes,” Scout.com wrote in an analysis. “Good all-around athlete who shows speed and athleticism on the offensive side of the ball as well. Gets his head around quickly and does a good job of locating the ball. Good ball skills when the play is there to be made. Not a tall or big kid but willing to be physical in press coverage and in run support.”

Johnson ran for 292 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-42 victory over Saline in the regional finals, and he scored on a 60-yard run in the state title game.

The Nittany Lions have loaded up in the secondary in this recruiting class. In addition to Johnson and the potential addition of Wade, they also have commitments from Georgia corner D.J. Brown and Virginia safety Jonathan Sutherland.

They were involved with another Michigan cornerback — Ambry Thomas — but he committed to play for Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines late last week after taking an official visit to Penn State.

The Lions are expected to sign around 20 players in this class.

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