Aug. 10, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Sandy Creek High School doesn’t send a lot of kids to Georgia Tech, but the ones they do send tend to be pretty special — think All-America wide receiver Calvin Johnson (two-time All-ACC tackle Andrew Gardner also went to Sandy Creek).
The latest Patriot alumnus to make the 25-mile trip from the Tyrone, Ga., school to Atlanta is Isaiah Johnson.
Isaiah won’t be catching passes like Calvin (not that anyone has since he left for the NFL in 2006), but if what he’s shown in spring ball and the first practices are any indication, he could make as big an impact only in keeping others from catching it.
“Certainly Isaiah Johnson is going to play. I can tell you that already coming off the spring,” said head coach Paul Johnson, who only seconds earlier had talked about the fierce competition for playing time and that no one, outside of inside linebacker Brad Jefferson and quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, were guaranteed a job.
“He is a very promising young player,” said defensive coordinator Al Groh. “Isaiah has a lot of athletic ability, really good instincts; his football awareness is very high. He knows how to practice, pay attention in the meetings, he is very studious in that respect and he can transfer it to the field. He has made a very positive impression and is in the fight for game time.”
Sounds like Johnson can count on seeing a lot of the field in 2010 and a less mature kid might start looking ahead.
But Johnson, the Class AAAA Defensive Player of the Year last year and Sandy Creek’s career- and single-season interceptions leader (he recorded six picks last season, including a pick-six he took 95 yards to the house in the AAAA Semifinals), isn’t counting on anything.
“Hopefully I have a good chance of playing,” he said. “If not, I want to do anything to get on the field and help my team out so we can make it to a bowl game, to the championship.”
Johnson knows something about championships, helping Sandy Creek win its first state championship last year. He’d like to help Georgia Tech, which won its first ACC Championship in 2009, add to its titles total.
Continuing the run at Tech could mean Johnson’s stepping into and filling the shoes of his idol, Morgan Burnett in the Jackets’ secondary, while playing Burnett’s position and even donning his number.
“Morgan Burnett was No. 1 and I looked up to him,” he said. “So No. 1 is kind of special to me.”
While growing up a Georgia fan (“I don’t like Georgia anymore,” he said) Johnson, who was also recruited by seven other ACC schools, as well as the likes of Auburn, Oregon, West Virginia Louisville and Michigan State (but, interestingly, not Georgia) is now firmly in the Yellow Jackets camp and is all in regarding Groh’s system.
“I like what Coach Groh has put in for us,” he said. “It’s different. I expect great, great things to happen. Coach Groh is an excellent coach. I’ve been hearing great things about his past and I’m just excited that he’s coaching me along with the team. I’m glad to be here.”
More advantageous to Johnson is that he can get his feet wet on the field without having to simultaneously do so in the classroom. He enrolled in January and already has his first academic semester under his belt.
“It was tough,” said Johnson, who is considering a Management major. “It was really a big challenge coming in here early out of high school and adjusting to college life, especially at Georgia Tech because you know academics here are really high. That has been a real challenge.”
Fall practice has actually been something of a relief.
“This camp time has given me just the football side of what’s going on and leaving the academics to follow along during the season,” he said. “So right now my main focus is on football.
“I can accept the challenge,” he added. “I know I’m ready and I’ll be ready to do it. As a team we’re ready.”