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Let’s jump into our latest Penn State Nittany Lions Recruiting Question of the Day…
Is Penn State targeting any other QBs in the 2019 class? – Frank Buffone via Facebook
I’ve discussed this topic at various times during recent months, but this is a particularly appropriate spot at which to address it again. Penn State carries a commitment from quarterback Taquan Roberson, but the staff has been transparent with him about its intention to pursue a second passer in the 2019 class.
Earlier this year, prospects such as Garrett Shrader and Taisun Phommachanh frequently were referenced by Nittany Lions fans. Now, it’s clear Penn State is a legitimate contender for Michael Johnson Jr., who will use an official visit in Happy Valley this weekend.
Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound playmaker who attends Sheldon (Eugene, Ore.) High School, discussed his upcoming trip with me on Tuesday evening. Though he’s never been to campus, there are a few things he’s expecting at Penn State.
“Nice environment, good fans, good people … 107K Strong,” Johnson said.
Considered the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and a top-200 overall talent in 247Sports 2019 composite rankings, he is scheduled to arrive in State College on Thursday night alongside his mother.
The trip requires three flights, as Johnson will travel from Eugene to San Francisco, then San Francisco to Orlando, before heading north to Happy Valley. He will remain on campus until Sunday morning.
That’s a lot of effort for what shapes up to be 60 hours or so on Pennsylvania soil. Johnson, using his first official visit to any university, believes it’s validated by what Penn State presents.
“The opportunity there, the school, the success they’ve had in a good conference and how they’re recruiting me,” he said.
So, how are they recruiting him?
“Really hard, I’d say,” Johnson said. “[Offensive coordinator Ricky] Rahne talks to me probably every other day; at least a couple times each week. I FaceTime Coach [James] Franklin one time a week, and I’m always talking to [running backs coach Ja’Juan] Seider, so it’s been really good.”
He said FaceTime conversations with Franklin have been consistent dating back to the 2017 season.
“We talk about school, family, how football is going,” Johnson said.
Penn State extended a scholarship offer last September. He has approximately 30 collegiate options, and he mentioned Florida State, Miami and North Carolina State as other programs pushing particularly hard for his verbal pledge.
Born in Corvallis, Ore., Johnson has lived in various regions across the United States as his father — Oregon Ducks assistant Michael Johnson Sr. — carved out an NFL coaching career. Past residences include Atlanta, Baltimore, San Diego and San Jose, Calif.
Due in part to his coast-to-coast upbringing, college location isn’t a paramount priority.
“I’m wide open about that. I’ll go anywhere,” he said.
Last weekend, Johnson traveled to Redondo Beach, Calif., for the Elite 11 finals, an annual invite-only event that features premier high school quarterback prospects. The experience provided an opportunity to dig deep into offensive philosophy and meet Penn State star Trace McSorley, who served as a counselor.
“He had nothing but good things to say about the university and the coaching staff,” Johnson said.
The future at quarterback for Penn State beyond McSorley features several compelling players, including junior Tommy Stevens, freshman Sean Clifford and the newly enrolled Will Levis.
Roberson, who committed to the Nittany Lions during a 2017 season that ended with him leading DePaul Catholic (Wayne, N.J.) High School to a state championship, provides another piece of the puzzle. Listed 12th among dual-threat quarterbacks in composite rankings, he won’t shy away from Penn State adding a second pledge at the position.
Johnson hasn’t communicated with Roberson but adopts a similar approach to the situation.
“Everyone always talks about it like a negative, saying if you bring in two quarterbacks one guy is going to transfer,” he said. “But either way, whether or not you have another quarterback in your class, there is going to be competition. When Trace McSorley leaves, there is going be a competition there. You have to be ready to compete no matter where you go. It doesn’t matter to me that they’re taking two quarterbacks.”
Johnson has enjoyed an incredibly productive prep career. Through three high school seasons, he’s totaled 5,565 passing yards, 1,878 rushing yards (7.5 per carry), 97 total touchdowns and only 15 interceptions.
“I’ve developed as a passer,” Johnson said. “I’ve always been able to throw but I’ve grown more being able to sit in the pocket, trust my receivers and throw guys open.”
As a rushing threat, success is a bit more simple.
“Usually I’m just faster than everyone else,” said Johnson, who reports a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
Johnson sees a fit for his skill set in Penn State’s attack.
“I like their offense a lot,” he said. “I feel like with my dynamics — being able to throw the ball well and run with the ball well — that helps.”
Last season, McSorley threw for 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns and added 491 yards and 11 scores on the ground. When Johnson describes his strongest traits, it might remind some of the Nittany Lions standout.
He pointed to “leadership and elusiveness” as top qualities during a self-assessment.
“I think I can make everyone better, and I can make plays when my teammates need me to,” Johnson said.
He might attempt to take another trip before the NCAA’s inaugural early official visit window ends June 24, though that destination remains undetermined. This weekend, Johnson will be joined on campus by several top-tier Penn State targets, including 4-star receivers John Dunmore and John Metchie.
“Getting to know your potential quarterback in college is a big deal for me, so [Johnson] is definitely somebody I’m going to speak with,” Metchie said Tuesday.
If the Nittany Lions staff sends Johnson home with a positive impression, Penn State might be peaking at the right time in this widespread recruitment.
“It’s coming down the final stretch,” Johnson said. “When I know, I’ll commit, wherever that is. … [Entering the season uncommitted] is not the plan but if that happens, it happens.”
Have a question about Penn State recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10PSU and we’ll try to answer it in a future mailbag. Check to see if your issue already was addressed by reading previous Penn State Recruiting Question of the Day here.