Lions land elite dual-threat QB recruit

The newest member of Penn State’s 2019 football recruiting class won’t need as much of a learning curve as the typical scholastic prospect transitioning to the college game.

Michael Johnson Jr. is well-accustomed to the higher levels of football.

“He’s been around football his whole life,” said Josh Line, who coaches Johnson at Sheldon High School in Oregon, in a video announcing Johnson’s college choice on The Oregonian newspaper’s website.

Johnson, the son of longtime NFL and Pac-12 assistant coach and former CFL quarterback Mike Johnson, increased the size of Penn State’s recruiting footprint when he decided to make a cross-country pledge to the Nittany Lions on Wednesday evening. He’s the Lions’ 14th recruit in this recruiting cycle and the second quarterback.

The younger Johnson selected the Lions over Miami, Florida State, North Carolina State and Oregon State. His dad currently is an assistant at Oregon, but the Ducks were only recruiting one quarterback this cycle and already had filled that slot.

“I like Coach (James) Franklin and the family atmosphere there,” Johnson Jr. told The Oregonian. “He’s going to take care of his guys on and off the field. It’s not just a football school. He’s going to make sure they are doing well in the classroom and in all other aspects of life. Coach (Ricky) Rahne, he’s like a players’ coach. He’s a young coach — not super young, but young enough. His offense matches my skill set perfectly. Also, Coach (Ja’Juan) Seider has known my family for a while. He’s a guy that I trust a lot, so his being there is a big, big part of it as well. It all aligned the right way.”

Johnson had only been to Penn State once, making an official visit the weekend of June 8.

Johnson (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) is entering his fourth year as a starting quarterback — the first two were in California when his dad was on the staff at UCLA — and he’s rolled up 5,565 passing yards, 1,878 rushing yards and accounted for 97 touchdowns with either his arm or his feet.

Johnson has been timed in the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds.

“He’s really fast. He can change directions very quickly. He’s got a huge arm. He can make huge throws. He can make something happen when there’s really nothing there,” Line said.

Johnson is ranked as the sixth-best dual-threat quarterback in the country by 247Sports. He was an Elite 11 Quarterback Camp finalist this summer and already has committed to play in the Under Armour All-American Game after the season.

“Johnson Jr. is the definition of a dual threat. He doesn’t dabble loosely in the definition. He is the definition,” wrote Roman Marciante of the Miami-based CanesInsight website in an evaluation of Johnson.

With Johnson in the fold, Penn State now has two of the top eight dual-threat rising senior quarterback prospects in the country, both of whom are ranked in the top 281 prospects regardless of position in 247Sports composite rankings. New Jersey signal-caller Ta’Quan Roberson committed back in October.

Franklin and his staff also are bringing aboard a number of weapons to put around them when they see the field sometime down the road. The Lions have commitments from Devyn Ford, the fourth-ranked running back in the country, receiver John Dunmore, the No 104 overall prospect in the class, and, over the weekend, they added fast-rising three-star wideout Emery Simmons from North Carolina.

“I just went to check things out and ended up falling in love with it,” Simmons said in an interview with Lions247’s Sean Fitz. “The family based environment and just the love that coach Franklin has for his guys. I just love everything about the program. … Coach Franklin and all the coaches were just so welcoming. I love that they are a family-first program. My dream has always been to be able to play for one of those types of schools, and I love Big Ten football.”

Simmons flipped a pledge from North Carolina to commit to the Lions. Earlier, he had been verbally committed to Indiana; oral commitments are not binding under NCAA rules.

Although the Lions only appear to have six or seven scholarships left in this class and still seem to be intent on adding a couple of offensive linemen, a defensive end, a defensive tackle and a safety, Penn State might not be done recruiting at wide receiver or running back. Indiana four-star receiver David Bell was one of several dozen prospects who attended Saturday’s “Lasch Bash” recruiting meet-and-greet and appear to be jockeying with Purdue to be his favorite.

Penn State also is high on the list of Florida four-star power back Noah Cain — his parents were in University Park for the Lasch Bash — and Coatesville running back Aaron Young was in on an unofficial visit on Monday.

West Virginia tight end Brenton Strange also just received a scholarship offer.

Penn State’s class currently is ranked 15th in the country by 247Sports.

The Lions appeared to get more good news on the recruiting front earlier this week with reports that Ohio defensive lineman Zach Harrison, considered one of the top three overall recruits in this class, might postpone his intended commitment announcement that was scheduled for Aug. 14. That appears to be a positive for Penn State, which is battling Ohio State and Michigan for Harrison’s services; Harrison already took an official visit to Penn State, and the Lion staff would like to have another chance to get him back on campus after he visiting the Buckeyes and Wolverines.

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