Wide receiver Juwan Johnson jumped on the Penn State bandwagon midway through a momentous recruiting stretch that defined early stages of head coach James Franklin's tenure. Nearly three months later, the 4-star prospect continues to exude confidence about his commitment and where the Nittany Lions are headed.
Johnson, a 6'4", 200-pound playmaker from Glassboro, New Jersey, didn't necessarily see himself headed to Happy Valley when the year began. Except, perhaps, as a member of the visiting team.
"Michigan and Ohio State were definitely my top two coming into 2014," he said.
Instead, he anticipates spending the next chapter of his football career making life miserable for the Wolverines and Buckeyes. It isn't personal. In fact, Johnson laughs when looking back at the irony of those early favorites, but his loyalties are clearly with the Nittany Lions.
"A lot of teams are still knocking at my door," Johnson said. "But when I commit, I commit. I remember that I committed to Penn State for a reason and I'm going to stick with that decision."
Johnson, rated No. 17 nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, pledged to the Nittany Lions on March 16 during a campus visit with his father. He became commitment No. 8 in a class that now includes 15 recruits and is third overall in 247Sports' composite team rankings.
"We were talking in Coach Franklin's office and he was just being honest," Johnson recalled. "He said 'We need you here and we want you to be a part of this team.' I liked everything about it and committed on the spot."
Along with Ohio State and Michigan, the likes of Alabama, Boston College, Rutgers and South Carolina were left looking elsewhere.
"That time period was hectic," Johnson said. "There were a lot of people coming after me, day after day. I just had a great connection with Penn State. I realized that was the place for me."
Aside from the Nittany Lions coaching staff, Johnson explained there's one man on campus whose presence provided particular motivation to commit.
Rising sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg was a freshman All-American last fall. He is already warranting interest as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, which he could ultimately avoid by staying in school through the following season.
"When you have a quarterback like that, it's a pleasure to play with him," Johnson said. "He's going to be one of the greats and potentially a Hall of Famer in the NFL. To have the opportunity to play with him is just incredible."
Along with the inhabitants of Happy Valley, Johnson has lofty expectations for the young star passer. He'll spend at least one season on campus with Hackenberg, but there's another reason he's looking forward to his future in Penn State's aerial attack.
"Brandon Wimbush's game is smooth," Johnson said.
Wimbush, a fellow 4-star New Jersey native, joined the Nittany Lions class on May 6. The coveted dual-threat quarterback chose Penn State over Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami.
Johnson envisions the Garden State standouts growing up together in the offensive scheme and becoming a formidable force. The two already share some familiarity when it comes to connecting on downfield targets.
"I caught a couple passes from him at a Nike camp and we can be a duo," Johnson said. "There was instant chemistry there. He has a strong arm and great football IQ. I would love to play with him."
Johnson looks forward to developing in a potentially explosive vertical offense at the next level. During the past two seasons, he caught 55 total passes for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns in a run-oriented attack that recently featured Big Ten running backs Paul James (Rutgers) and Corey Clement (Wisconsin).
Before he even met Franklin, Johnson admired his offensive philosophy from afar.
"One thing I really liked about Vanderbilt was the way they got their receivers the ball," he said. "I watched Jordan Matthews a lot when he was at Vanderbilt, without even knowing about James Franklin. I have some similarities to Matthews."
Matthews, also a tall pass target, set the SEC record for career receptions and was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft by Philadelphia.
Penn State continues to put pieces in place for a successful future under Franklin. Four-star Virginia receiver Brandon Polk committed nine days after Johnson, giving the team another dynamic downfield threat.
Johnson credits the coaching staff for assembling a stellar 2015 class to this point, but he believes the pledges deserve a pat on the back too.
"The thing about our recruits is that we recruit other people," he said. "We help out each other and see what we can do as a group so we can go into college united. All the commits talk every day and focus on how we can get better."
Johnson is presently playing the role of recruiter for Penn State. Eventually, he aims to emerge as a go-to guy for talented quarterbacks like Hackenberg and Wimbush as they lead the revitalized program into a new era.
Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.