He was born and raised in North Carolina, but Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson seemingly has earned a pass as a lifer in Maryland. After all, Johnson has spent the last 45 years coaching, tutoring or recruiting the football players and programs inside Maryland’s borders, one of the most talented areas in the country. Before beginning his college coaching career as a Penn State assistant, Johnson spent 20 years as a Maryland high school football coach, capturing three state championships at Pomfret (Md.) McDonough in his first head coaching position.
It is that intense familiarity and bone-deep awareness of the state’s football culture and programs that have allowed Johnson to become such an effective recruiter in Maryland, perhaps the best to work in the state. He has lured a number of players from the state to the north — players such as former Penn State All-American and first-round draft pick Aaron Maybin, 2018 5-star defensive tackle Taron Vincent and Buckeyes sophomore defensive end Chase Young.
Johnson credits his success in recruiting Maryland to the relationships he has built over time with the major coaches and key figures at the top programs in the state, including Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic. The powerhouse program near the nation’s capital sent Young to the Buckeyes as a 5-star recruit in the 2017 class, and Johnson has made it a priority to not forsake his relationships there after landing Young.
In February, Johnson traveled to Maryland to speak at a high school coaching clinic, working directly with prominent high school coaches in the area from DeMatha and other programs. Johnson was instructing the gathered coaches on his “Rushmen” defensive line techniques, the coaching points that have been instrumental in Johnson sending 16 — and counting — defensive linemen to the NFL draft in his career, with more undoubtedly on the way soon.
For the Ohio State assistant, the chance to impart his knowledge on coaching colleagues was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up — a chance to simultaneously give back to the Maryland football community and continue his efforts to build stronger relationships in the area for recruiting purposes.
“I want high school coaches to know I’m in the area and giving back and that I’m there. It’s a free clinic, maybe the best way to meet with your friends and to continue to stretch our brand into the Maryland area, and that’s the reason why I did it,” Johnson said. “All the schools in the area love a guy who comes back to continue to speak, so I always get back there.”
Johnson was invited to DeMatha by coach Elijah Brooks, who also hosted coaches from programs such as Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers and several other Division I schools. The relationship between Brooks, who is entering his eighth season as DeMatha’s coach, and Johnson has been strong and only continues to grow stronger.
“Coach Brooks is one of my favorite coaches in the state of Maryland. He does a great job, and he does it the right way. I really have a lot of respect for him,” Johnson said. “If he says he has a player, you really have to listen to him. He does a great job.”
Now entering his sophomore season and expected to be a major breakout player, Young is perhaps the most highly recruited player in DeMatha history. He was the most recent major prospect to come to Ohio State with Brooks’ key recommendations, but he probably won’t be the last.
Ohio State has remained actively involved with the program, recruiting and offering players such as 2019 safety Nick Cross, 2019 wide receiver DeMarcco Hellams and 2020 running back MarShawn Lloyd. Because of his past as a national recruit and his early production for the Buckeyes, Young has become a resource for DeMatha’s prospects. He has happily embraced the role.
“I know Nick Cross; he’s coming up here in a few weeks. He just asks me about if I think he could play here and what the depth chart is looking like, things like that,” Young said. “I tell him you’ve just got to come here and visit, look at the depth chart, see where it is and if you think you could come in and fit in.”
Cross is a 4-star recruit and the No. 10 safety in the Class of 2019. He has yet to visit Columbus as a recruit, but he plans to remedy that soon, as Young noted.
“I have talked to Chase a bit about Ohio State. I have asked him about the tradition, the atmosphere and just the general feel, and he says he loves it up there,” Cross told Land of 10 after receiving his Ohio State offer. “I definitely can see myself playing there. I love the consistency, the tradition and just the product that is put out on the field every game of every year.”
Ohio State won’t know until National Signing Day whether the legwork by Johnson and other Buckeyes coaches in Maryland and at DeMatha will continue to pay dividends into the 2019 recruiting class, but the effort is there.