January 23, 2020

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Diamond in the Rough: Donovan Johnson

Donovan Johnson is a 4* Safety out of Helen Cox High School in Harvey, LA. Johnson stands at 6’2, 185 lbs with a bench press of 240 and squat of 425 lbs. Donovan has excellent football IQ but an equally impressive intelligence off the football field, scoring a 24 on the ACT. Johnson’s skills as both a run stopper and excellent defender in zone and man coverage make him a headache for opposing quarterbacks. Johnson possesses exceptional speed as well as a great ability to catch the football, making him a threat for interceptions anytime opposing quarterbacks look his way. Donovan is a current University of Virginia commit and invitee to the Louisiana Gridiron Football All-Star game.


What made you get into football? When and what age?

I began playing when I was just 4 years old, mainly through my mother. She used to play catch with me in the yard and was always willing to do that for me. Also, I grew up hearing stories about how great of an athlete my father was. He was killed when I was 6 years old, so it motivated me to play for him but also to go out and make a name for myself. I have a younger brother as well, so football was a good way for me to be a good role model to my younger brother coming from a single parent household.

What is your favorite part about the game?

Playing with people I love and trust. Special teams is probably the most fun part of the game for me as it played a key role in growing my love of the sport as I started playing special teams my freshman year. Also, I just love watching my teammates get better over time and develop as athletes.

Do you have any superstitions or pre-game rituals?

I pop one of my dreads out and put it in my sock every game. This was something I started doing because I began to grow my hair out in honor of my father. This way, I feel like he is always with me during a game. Another thing I do before a game is get extremely quiet. A lot of my coaches and teammates will ask me, “what’s wrong” but it’s really just a way for me to block out all the noise and gather my thoughts to be focused on the game.

What are some ways that you believe you show leadership on and off the field?

I’ve always been a leader since sophomore year being a 3 year starter. Outside of the field I like to set examples by always staying in class, dressing appropriately, and doing what is expected of me as a student. I believe it is very important to set an example in school. During practice, I show leadership by always practicing at game speed. I think that shows the younger guys the importance of giving it your all even if it’s just practice because that will translate onto the field during real-time games. Also, during a game, you have to make plays to show you’re a force of leadership.

When it comes to playing defensive back, what is the hardest aspect of playing the position? 

 Hardest part is cover 2. Covering those seams can be difficult because always have to be on the same page as the safety alongside you.

What is the easiest thing that comes naturally?

My vision. I am always scanning left to right, eyeing the quarterback. I am also always focused on the receivers and their cuts. I like to keep a field general role, keeping everything in front of me.

Who is your favorite player in football?

Jalen Hurts and Malik Hooker. I also grew up watching and admiring Ed Reid, who’s up there as one of the best safeties I’ve seen. I was actually able to meet Mr. Reid and text back and forth with him regularly for advice. He’s been a great source of wisdom and an excellent role model. 

Are there any specific plays or coverages you believe you thrive in?

I see myself as a well balanced safety who thrives on shedding blocks in defending the run game and I am good in zone. I am great in man-to-man coverage.Personally, I love defending corner routes in man and zone coverage. Overall, I believe cover 2 and 3 highlights my skillset the best.

Do you have any personal and team goals for the season?

We just want to grow as a unit and keep forming a strong bond as a group of seniors. I’m always looking to get better as a player and play as much as I can to help the team no matter what position on the field.

What sets you apart from the crowd as a defensive back?

Watch my film, my results speak for themselves. I think that speaks to my confidence level in a huge way.

If you could play any other position, what would it be?

Corner in the redzone defense for sure. I believe id be a great fit in that situation. Also I would like to try and play quarterback, using my speed to burn defenses.

Biggest influence for playing? Is there anyone or anything specifically that you play for?

My family. Seeing my mom smile is proof that she did a great job in raising me into a great young man and watching me play football is what keeps her going. 

In your opinion, what is the hardest part when preparing for an opponent?

Usually special teams. Coach says special teams plays a huge role and can define a game. Doing your job is the most important part because it can immediately flip the field, especially field goal blocking. I blocked 2 my junior year and that definitely showed me the importance of effective special team play.

What is your favorite memory during your playing career?

Sophomore year, I scored my first highschool touchdown after an interception for a pick-6. It was a great confidence boost. It proved I can be a great safety and installed trust into my coaches to put me in a great position that has carried my confidence and work ethic through the years. 

Have you committed anywhere yet and if so, what has you most excited about playing at the next level?

I committed to Virginia over the summer. I am excited to get out of my element, taking my New Orleans edge to a place like virginia and showing my personality to those guys.