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July 1, 2012All Daje Johnson needed was a plan.
Baylor came calling. So did TCU. Roughly 15 others came calling as well. Most of them wanted Daje as an athlete.
TCU had a specific plan to use him on offense as both a receiver and running back, much the same way he was used at Pflugerville Hendrickson. And the Horned Frogs earned Johnson's commitment.
When Texas came calling, at first, there was no plan - just an appreciation for his athleticism.
That athleticism (a lot of which appears to have come from his father, Clyde, who played defensive back at Kansas State from 1994-96 before going on to the Kansas City Chiefs) helped Johnson pile up 2,178 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on 249 carries (8.7 ypc) with 28 receptions for 496 yards (17.7 ypr) and six TDs with one punt return as a senior.
In his final two seasons at Hendrickson, Johnson returned two kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns, helping Hendrickson to a 14-9 record.
The Texas coaches told Johnson they would find a place for him. But as time went on, Daje wanted a plan. And Major Applewhite finally gave him one.
"I think Coach Applewhite did a great job of coming in and selling late," said Chip Killian, Johnson's head coach at Hendrickson. "Coach (Mack) Brown is the Godfather in terms of being able to seal the deal. But I think Coach Applewhite did a good job of identifying with Daje and bonding with him and was able to sway him.
"I think Daje was listening to Texas. But I think once Texas had a plan for him, it swayed him (away from TCU). That's where Coach Applewhite and Coach Harsin did a good job. When they got on him originally, it was just because he was a freak athlete. They were trying to figure out how to use him. And kids these days want to know how they are going to be used.
"It's the now generation. It's the microwave generation. Kids want to know right now, 'What are you going to do with me?' And sitting in here listening to recruiters talk, the kids will say, 'Well, if you're going to recruit me as an athlete, what's your plan? Texas is Texas. I don't want to get lost in the shuffle.'"
Once Texas developed a plan for Johnson, things took off. Killian sees that plan coming together with the announcement by Mack Brown of a "T and Z" package for Johnson and senior-to-be D.J. Monroe way.
"With Daje and D.J. Monroe, they are creating a position - that hybrid back kind of deal - where they can move him around," Killian said. "That's what we did with him. We split him out wide. We put him in the slot. We put him in the backfield. He took snaps. You could put the kid wherever you want to.
"I can't imagine the kid not returning punts and kickoffs at Texas because he's just that explosive. If you kick it to him, you're stupid. I'll say that, because he can house it."
EXPLOSIVE BURST: Killian said Johnson's top-end speed is well documented ? whether it's the 4.28 in the 40 that Killian clocked or the 4.35 time Johnson posted at The Opening in Oregon last summer.
But Killian says what really blows everyone away is the burst. As Killian says, "Daje can go from 0 to really, really fast in the blink of an eye.
"You're a linebacker and you think you're going to close that hole, and he's already past you. It's just stupid," Killian said.
"His burst made up for a lot of mistakes when he played defense. We hated losing him on defense. Our defense got a lot worse when we moved him over to the offensive side.
"But he might have read something wrong or bit on something incorrectly and get a step out of place, but he had the burst to get back into coverage in no time."
KILLER INSTINCT: What separates Johnson from most and what may separate Johnson from D.J. Monroe, is an undying desire to be the best and to do whatever it takes to help his team.
Killian said he saw Johnson's fire up close in Hendrickson's first every victory last season over rival Pflugerville Connally. All Johnson did was rush for 337 yards and five touchdowns on runs of 3, 67, 1, 18 and 59 yards on 31 carries in a 37-35 victory.
"He was tired, and it was a nip-and-tuck game, and he kept coming over to me and saying, 'Coach, give me the ball. Give me the ball.' And you have to love a kid like that," Killian said.
"His senior year, he just wanted the ball. And you don't always get the kids who demand the ball. That's the thing that's going to be hard to replace is the mindset of that guy.
"He wanted the rock, and everyone in the stadium knew he was going to get it. And I'm talking about a tired kid who had piled up a bunch of yards and got knocked around a little bit and touched the ball a lot. He still wanted it because he knew he could make a difference in a close game."
WHATEVER IT TAKES: Sources close to the situation have said Monroe is content to have a limited role on the football team and to run track. That he isn't real interested in spending a lot of extra time watching film or in the weight room. And that has played a role in not getting Monroe on the field consistently.
Johnson, meanwhile, is a bit of a workout warrior and has his mind focused on making an impact at Texas as soon as possible.
"Texas fans are going to enjoy watching him play because of his explosiveness," Killian said. "As Coach (Bryan) Harsin and Coach Applewhite really expand that offense and ramp it up with speed, it's going to be a lot faster with Daje Johnson on the field. He just gets from Point A to Point B so fast.
"He's not a weight room junkie. But when he's in there, he will work.
"He'll watch film. Coach Applewhite will slap him around if he doesn't. But he's a football player. He ran track on the side. He wants to be in the National Football League. That's where his head and heart are."
SURPRISING STRENGTH: When you hear about Johnson carrying the ball 30 times a game as a senior, you wonder about his ability to avoid the big hit.
"I don't think people understand how strong he is," Killian said. "He's only 5-8. But he's all over our strength board. I know the players get bigger in college. But we played some pretty good-sized teams, and I think he does a good job catching more glancing blows. I think he has the ability to change direction and position his body to avoid the big hit.
"It's going to be real hard for someone to just square him up. I didn't see too many guys do that."
So just how strong is Johnson?
"Power cleans 300 pounds. Benches 315," Killian said. "And for a kid who weighs 175 pounds, that's a lot of weight. He squats 450 or 475. Coach (Bennie) Wylie will go nuts with him. He'll be a freak by the time he gets out of Texas. He'll eat better and benefit from that strength program."
UNLIMITED OPTIONS: Killian said the only thing limiting where Johnson can play on the field are the coaches' imaginations.
"We'd split him out wide and throw the deep ball to him," Killian said. "We'd put him in the slot and run a reverse. Or we'd get in empty, reload and hand him the ball. When he was quarterback, we had a Wildcat package with him."
The Texas Wild formation has an opening with Fozzy Whittaker now out of eligibility.
"It's a natural deal for Daje," Killian said. "He had great hands. We never had to worry about him handling the snap.
"We've put some backs in that formation, and they'd have stone hands. Daje has good hands. He can catch the ball, so you don't worry about the snap.
"He runs good routes. We used him as a decoy even. We'd line him up wide. They'd roll coverages to him, and we'd run the other way. Defenses definitely knew where he was."
A GOOD KID: Killian said he never had to worry about Johnson in terms of off-the-field behavior.
"He's good teammate," Killian said of Johnson whose mother lives in Virginia and who was raised mostly by his father, Clyde, in Pflugerville.
"For the most part, he always has a smile on his face and is laughing about something. I wouldn't say he's a big rah-rah guy who is going to give some motivational speech or anything. He's got kind of a high-pitched laugh. I can still hear it in my office."
The thing Killian liked most about Johnson was that when a game got tight, Johnson never did.
"When the pressure was the greatest in a game, he was his most relaxed," Killian said. "He'd always kind of grin or give you a silly laugh when things would get tight. Not much got to him.
"He's been in enough pressure situations. Outside of the speed of the college game and playing in front of 100,000 people, he's going to relax and let his athleticism take over."
And with Mack Brown's staff already creating a package of plays for Johnson, that shouldn't take long because now ... it's all part of the plan.