A.J. Johnson wasn’t even committed to Tennessee for three months before he decided to take his interest elsewhere. The 6-foot-3, 223-pound inside linebacker from Gainesville, Ga., decommitted in January after former UT coach Lane Kiffin took the same position at USC.
Now, he’s one of the most sought-after defensive players in the country, with a flock of schools after him. The rising junior currently holds offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, LSU, Miami, USC, among others. He’s a hot commodity in the recruiting world, but he wants people to know that just because he reneged on his commitment doesn’t mean he’s not still interested in what the Volunteers have to offer.
“I still like Tennessee,” Johnson said. “They’re still on my list. I only decommitted because the coaching staff left and I didn’t want to stay committed to the school when the new coaching staff was coming in because I didn’t know if they would be recruiting me.”
That new staff is recruiting Johnson and he said he and new coach Derek Dooley have developed a good relationship.
But with all the attention he’s getting, Johnson is keeping his options open at this point.
This spring he visited Florida, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee and plans to trim his list down to five schools this summer. His criteria for the perfect school includes good academics, a chance to be in regular contention for a national championship, an exciting game-day atmosphere and some time in a 3-4 defense.
One school increasing its recruitment of Johnson is Florida. Linebackers and special teams coach D.J. Durkin has been in charge of recruiting Johnson, and so far Johnson said he’s enjoyed talking with Durkin because of his desire to get to know not just him but his family.
After seeing Florida’s program operate in person this spring, Johnson said he came away with much more interest in the Gators’ program.
“I had a good time this spring. I got to see (Florida’s) practice. It was a good, intense practice,” Johnson said.
“The coaches are real cool. Coach (Urban) Meyer, I like him, he makes practice real hard. They push their players and try to get them to be the best. That’s why they’re one of the top teams (in the country).”
Johnson said his game most resembles that of former Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Still, there’s one school that sticks out in Johnson’s mind, and it isn’t in the SEC.
“Clemson is coming at me the hardest,” he said. “I’ve seen them a whole bunch and all the coaches are real cool.”
There’s still time for other schools to make up ground, but Johnson said Clemson is at the top for now. He wants to visit Florida, Florida State and Miami this summer and would like to get up to North Carolina if possible.
As a sophomore, Johnson had 160 total tackles, including nine for loss and four sacks.