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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

By Sammy Batten

THUMBNAILS:  2006  •  2007  •  2008  •  2009

ECU's football culture impressed QB

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

Chip Walker didn’t know a lot about Rio Johnson’s potential as a quarterback in the summer of 2005. But it didn’t take Walker long to decide that Johnson had an intense desire to learn how to play position.

Walker, the head coach at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, GA, allowed then-incoming-freshman Johnson to accompany the varsity players to a seven-on-seven passing camp in Atlanta at Georgia Tech. While Johnson didn’t participate in the actual passing competition, what he did that day left an impression on Walker.

“He stood behind the huddle with our playbook in his hands,’’ Walker said. “He went over every play just as we were ready to run them. I think he did that the whole time we were there.

“That’s when I kind of thought he had a chance to be pretty good. I didn’t know how good, but I knew he had a chance.’’

“I learned the whole offense in two days,’’ Johnson said, finishing the story.

It’s that kind of diligence that earned Johnson a healthy dose of action on the Sandy Creek varsity as a sophomore. He came of age late in the season when, after replacing the injured veteran starter in third quarter of a state playoff contest, he completed nine-of-16 passes with five balls getting dropped, according to Walker.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder graduated to the starting job in 2007, completing 122 of 222 passes for 1,710 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Johnson watched the East Carolina Pirates defeat Boise State following his junior season in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, but knew little else about the school’s football program. That all changed as Johnson and his prep teammates began spring football practice in April.

The Sandy Creek roster features as many as seven major-college prospects, including Johnson and highly touted wide receiver Braxton Lane. Lane may have actually been the player who first prompted ECU co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler to drop by a Sandy Creek practice in the spring.

“I told Coach Shankweiler, ‘You need to watch this kid. He’s got a chance to be pretty good,’’’ Walker said. “He watched him and told me they wanted to get him on campus so that (ECU quarterbacks and co-offensive coordinator) Coach (Todd) Fitch can watch him throw.’’

Johnson had his command performance before Fitch in Greenville during ECU’s summer camp in mid-June. He impressed Fitch enough that the day after Johnson headed back home to Georgia, the Pirates extended a scholarship offer.

“I kind of knew if I did real well at camp that they would offer me,’’ Johnson said. “So once I saw I did kind of good at camp I was kind of anticipating they were going to offer me. I talked to Coach Fitch and he seemed impressed with everything I did.

“So I went home and talked things over with my mom, my dad and my coach. It took me about a week to announce it, but I pretty much knew I wanted to be a Pirate.

“I was real impressed with the town of Greenville. It’s a real college-based town. I liked the campus a lot. I also like the fact they have great crowds at their home games and football is really the big thing there.’’

Last Wednesday, Johnson became the fourth prep player to make a verbal commitment to join the Pirates' recruiting class of 2009 over offers from Alabama-Birmingham and Ohio.

Walker said the Pirates would likely redshirt Johnson as a true freshman in 2009, but would look for him to begin contributing the following season.

“They told him he’d probably redshirt, and then he’d have a chance,’’ Walker said. “Obviously, having that early opportunity was appealing to him.’’

Football has been in Johnson’s blood since childhood. He started playing the game in recreation leagues at age 6 and learned many lessons about the game from his godfather, former Buffalo Bills cornerback Nate Odoms.

“I would say I try to emulate him in the way that I carry myself on the field,’’ Johnson said. “I’m always trying to be a leader.’’

The commitment from Johnson puts the Pirates a step closer to fulfilling a major need in their recruiting efforts this season. With current veterans Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass set to complete their eligibility over the next two years, and Brett Clay deciding to give up the sport, ECU’s only other scholarship quarterback at the present is incoming freshman Josh Jordan.

Don’t be surprised if the Pirates actually try to sign two quarterbacks in this class to bolster the depth in that area for the future.

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06/25/2008 02:29:44 AM


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