Oct. 22, 2004
by Simit Shah
ATLANTA–It was a game that will live among the greatest that Georgia Tech has ever played, and the voice of the Yellow Jackets Wes Durham capped it by declaring, “The legend is born in Calvin Johnson!”
The miraculous comeback victory against Clemson earlier this year served notice to the rest of the ACC that Johnson will be a receiving force to be reckoned with for years to come.
Johnson and the Yellow Jackets (4-2, 3-2 ACC) are enjoying a week off in preparation for next Thursday’s nationally-televised showdown with 22nd-ranked Virginia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field.
The 127-yard, three touchdown performance in just his second collegiate game had fans, coaches and teammates echoing Durham’s sentiments. The only one unimpressed with it was Johnson himself.
With 16 seconds left in the game and trailing by three points, Johnson lined up to the left one-on-one against Clemson’s Justin Miller. “I saw that, and I knew that the ball was probably going to come to me,” he said nonchalantly. “I was just ready to go up and get the ball, just like I do in practice.”
“He’s a very quiet guy,” said coach Chan Gailey. “I don’t try to make clones of these guys. I want them to be their own person, their own individual. I don’t try to make a guy that talks a lot talk less.
“Would I like them to talk smarter? Yes. If it’s a guy that doesn’t talk a lot, I don’t try to get them to talk more. I want them to be themselves.”
While his words may be scarce, Johnson has everyone talking about his tremendous ability. It started during fall practice, as he catapulted up the depth chart with a daily clinic in acrobatic catches. By the season opener, the 6-4, 225-pounder was in the starting lineup.
“I had my mind set on (playing right away),” he said. “During camp, I really concentrated on learning the plays and the system. After I got that down, it wasn’t too bad.”
Following the Clemson game, defenses tightened up on him, often locking their best defensive back on Johnson. Over the next three games, he caught seven passes for 131 yards and no touchdowns.
However, he broke out again against Duke, hauling in six passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns. For the second time this season, Johnson earned ACC Rookie of the Week honors.
“He’s getting better,” said Gailey. “He’s already very good, and he’s getting better every week. You think that a lot of people would try to do what Miami did, but [Duke] felt like they had to stop our running game, so they end up playing him one-on-one out there. He can go get it.”
Through six games, Johnson is leading the Jackets with 23 catches for 395 yards. He stands poised to break school marks for receptions, yards and touchdowns for freshmen.
It’s a lot to handle for a player who has only been on campus a few months, but the coaching staff is hoping that sophomore quarterback Reggie Ball will be able to guide Johnson through some of the trials and tribulations.
“That’s where Reggie can really help,” explained offensive coordinator Patrick Nix. “Reggie’s been through all that last year, and he can show Calvin and some of the other guys how to handle things, especially off the field.”
“I talked to Calvin, especially during the summer,” said Ball. “I’ve already brought him down to earth a couple of times in the weight room. I’ll be there for all the freshmen, because I just went through all that.”
Gailey has been around some great offensive players during his coaching career, and he feels that Johnson has all the tools to be one of the best collegiate receivers. However, the head coach is cautious about expecting too much too soon.
“He has the potential to be a great, great receiver,” Gailey said. “He just needs to play a lot more. You can’t question his work ethic or his knowledge. He’ll get better as time goes on with all the little things that he needs to work on. For example, he hadn’t seen much bump coverage. He’ll have to work on it just because he hasn’t seen it.”
And so what does Johnson make of all the accolades he’s garnered in such a short time? As you might have guessed, he had a short answer: “It’s been pretty smooth so far. I’ve pretty much adjusted to it.”