January 4, 2011

Johnson praises Wilcox, says he would listen to Vols

SAN ANTONIO --- Four-star inside linebacker C.J. Johnson, who's been verbally committed to Mississippi State for more than a year, isn't telling reporters here in Alamo City anything he hasn't told MSU coaches when he says he's going to look around.

Johnson will visit the Bulldogs' Starkville campus next weekend and has visits lined up each of the following weekends. The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder also said he'd be willing to listen if Tennessee wants to reopen the connection previously established by Vols defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

"Coach Wilcox flew down to see me once, and that's the last I heard of them when he came down on a visit. They never really called me and never really tried to set up and official visit, so I guess they pretty much said it was over," said Wilson, who also has visits lined up to Ole Miss and LSU. "Oh definitely [Wilson would talk to UT's coaches]. I'm open to see what it is to offer, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a big recruit and get to visit all these different campuses. Yeah, sure (he'd talk)."

Among the top interior linebackers in the country and potential candidate to garner a fifth star this week, according to Rivals.com's national analysts, Johnson amassed 300 tackles combined in his junior and senior seasons at Philadelphia (Miss.) High School. But Johnson, who said his strengths are his ability to run sideline-to-sideline and make plays, is more focused on securing playing time for Saturday's annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl inside the AlamoDome.

"The first couple of days have been pretty good. Everybody here has got the same level of competition," he said, "so we're pretty much battling for spots. It's been a real good challenge."

Johnson's battles through the first couple days of practices have not gone unnoticed by East coach Lance Pogue.

"C.J. Johnson, out of sight what he is. He's a true inside linebacker. Very physical, can run sideline to sideline. Just so tough at making contact," said Pogue, head coach at South Panola (Miss.). "I think he's a phenomenal football player. Had unbelievable amount of tackles his senior year. Again, a kid from a smaller school in Mississippi that maybe nobody knows or asks much about but you'll hear about him in the near future."

MSU coaches haven't challenged Johnson on his desire to explore what other schools and programs offer.

"They're real cool about it. I told them, if I see something different, you all will be the first to know about it," Johnson said he told MSU coaches. "Not recruiters and sports guys or none of that. If something's different, then I'll talk to them about it. I won't just go out public with it and kind of put them on the backburner."

As for the impression Wilcox imprinted on him, Johnson said he was very impressed.

"Oh man, he's a great guy. Kind of got a chance to watch Tennessee on TV a little bit, liked the scheme. They blitz a lot. He's definitely a coach I wouldn't mind playing for," Johnson said of Wilcox. "There's a lot of young guys out there coaching that are real young, and the younger guys, they kind of bring more intensity to the table. That's something you look for as a freshman coming into a college, a coach that will get you pumped up every day for practice. There are days when you're down and out, and it's definitely fun."

Johnson said he and Wilcox did spend some time talking Xs and Os when Wilcox traveled to visit him.

"A little bit; he kind of wanted to find some of my comfort zones on defense and some stuff I like to do. Yeah, we talked a little bit (about scheme)," he said.

What most stood out to Johnson was Wilcox's no-nonsense approach.

"Man, he's a straight-forward guy," Johnson said. "He's not going to beat around the bush with you. He's going to get to the point and tell you what Tennessee has to offer and what they can do for you."

So could Johnson end up with another announcement, either reconfirming his commitment to MSU or otherwise?

"Again, that's all going to pay into when I take my visits. If I see something different, I'll talk to (State), and if I have a change in decision, I'll let you all know," he said.

Johnson currently is a four-star prospect who's the No. 6 player at his position and the 138th overall player nationally, according to Rivals.com rankings.

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