Sterling Johnson Commits to Clemson: What 4-Star DE Brings to Tigers

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystMay 14, 2014


Sterling Johnson made up his mind to wear orange in college Tuesday but ultimately changed his desired shade by the end of the day.

The 4-star defensive lineman attempted to commit to Tennessee, according to Phil Kornblut of, but he was rebuffed by the Volunteers. He quickly turned his attention elsewhere, pledging to Clemson later in the evening:

All signs seemed to point to Knoxville for Johnson, a 6'5", 281-pound prospect from Clayton, North Carolina. He visited the Volunteers in April and immediately elevated Tennessee to the top of an expansive offer list.

"Tennessee, they’re a strong leader right now for me," Johnson told 247Sports reporter Ryan Callahan (subscription required).

Just as he was ready to accept an opportunity to play for the Volunteers, head coach Butch Jones and his staff pushed pause on the recruitment process. Per Kornblut's report, Tennessee is growingly content with its current crop of defensive tackles and preferred to wait and see Johnson at camp before moving forward with the process.

Less than an hour later, he had dropped Tennessee from consideration and committed to Clemson.

"I felt like it was God's plan," Johnson told Kornblut. "I really enjoyed our conversation (with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney) and I like the coaching staff because they are real people and work like everyone else."

He is the 14th member of the 2015 Tigers class and its top-rated defensive prospect. Johnson is listed at No. 10 nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings.

His junior season featured consistent displays of disruptiveness in the offensive backfield. Johnson tallied 80 tackles, including an incredible 51 for loss, and eight sacks in 2013.

Prior to his pledge to Clemson—and attempted pledge to Tennessee—Johnson considered several collegiate options. He weighed offers from Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina, UCLA and Alabama, among others.

He brings tremendous versatility to the Tigers defense. Clemson can utilize Johnson along the interior against the run, as he wreaks havoc destroying double-team efforts and uses rapid lower-body movement to force his way through space.

Johnson is rangy enough to set up shop along the outside edge when the Tigers install schemes built on a foundation of more formidable size on the defensive front. He can improve his set of pass-rushing skills but already displays superb closing speed once the pocket collapses and a quarterback is within striking distance.

He joins South Carolina defensive lineman Gage Cervenka as another member of Clemson's haul at the position. The class rates fourth nationally in 247Sports' composite teams rankings, sitting atop the list of all ACC squads.


Recruit rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.