June 8, 2005

A family victory

Growing up in Durham, N.C., Southern offensive tackle Carl Johnson was raised on basketball. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder was raised as a Cameron Crazy, and he was even able to meet some of the bigger names to come out of the Blue Devils program.

Little did Johnson know that it wasn't basketball which would push him to superstardom. Instead, his success would come on the gridiron.

Playing basketball his whole life, Johnson was able to meet Duke stars, including Sean Battier and Carlos Boozer.

"I'm a big Duke fan, and I got to meet those guys after a lot of home games," said Johnson in a phone interview with Rivals.com.

During his seventh grade year, Johnson's father told him to give football a try.

"The first time I ever actually played football was in eighth grade, and I took it and ran with it," he said. "It's continually been improving. I've been starting since my sophomore year. My freshman year I came off the bench and learned from the older guys. They really pounced on me and that year got me mean. You play with that and I grew into it."

That attitude has carried over through his football career. Johnson prepares for every game with that same amount of determination.

"We watch a lot of film before a game, and then right before game time I breathe deep and imagine I'm making the blocks and playing football," said Johnson.

With all the experiences from basketball, Johnson attributes much of his ability and footwork to his years of taking to the court.

"When you're younger playing basketball, it's all about having fun and working out your body, but it really helps with your footwork," he said. "You don't realize how much it helps your footwork, but when you start moving on the field, you need to stay low and move quickly. I'm an athlete and you can't contain an athlete. They can accomplish anything and eventually they'll break out."

Indeed, basketball improved Johnson's athleticism and prepared Johnson for the rigors of football. Recently, Johnson was named a five-star athlete, the top offensive tackle in the country and the fifth best player overall.

"It feels really good to be honored and it shows all the hard work and practice don't go to waste, they go to something good," Johnson said. "It means a lot to me especially being a lineman. It shows that they are recognizing a lineman's hard work, willingness and drive to win. It means especially a lot that Andre Smith and I are ranked so high since we are offensive linemen."

Johnson is also the top player to come out of North Carolina this year.

"That feels really good because this puts North Carolina on that map," he said. "They're not used to putting out top athletes and I think in a couple of years they'll be putting out a lot of players. People always talk about California and Florida for talent, but I think North Carolina is going to be one of the top areas for recruiting, too."

Battling it out in competitive North Carolina high school football, Johnson's greatest challenge of his career was against last year's top state player.

"The best player I've gone against was running back Toney Baker, who signed with NC State," he said. "I played a little bit of defense and that guy was incredible to take down. I'm 6-foot-6, 325-pounds and when I hit him he put up a fight."

Florida definitely understands the level of talent in North Carolina. Johnson took a visit to them last weekend and decided to commit to the Gators.

"They have a great family atmosphere -- that's a lot like my school; it's a big family that's a part of the foundation there. It was more the off-the-field activities than on the field that convinced me to go there because the players showed that they are a family. They also have one of the best academic opportunities in the country," he said. "I know football won't last forever, but at least I still have a family to support me there."

Johnson continued, "I also want to get on the bandwagon because they can win championships in the next couple of years."

Besides the family atmosphere, the coaches played an important role in reeling in the massive offensive tackle.

"Coach Meyer is a down-to-earth guy and he's a coach that pushes players," he said. "He's worried about the players and he really gets into the academic part of things with the athletes. That shows a lot when a coach is move involved in academics than on the field."

With the decision-making process complete, Johnson wouldn't change anything about his recruiting experience.

"I feel really good, I have no regrets," he said. "I was waiting to name my top eight and Florida was in there. After the visit I decided, why wait? I just went ahead and got it over with."

Growing up Johnson was a fan of rival Florida State.

"I used to like Florida State a lot when I was younger, but now I just see them as competition."

Next season, the offensive tackle will be keeping a close eye on his new team.

"I'm going to pay attention to play development and make sure they have a winning season," he said. "I don't have any doubt that they're going to be pretty good. I know they are in need of some linemen. I also want to see how the coaches are during the game."

Johnson's thoughts on Florida's future are all positive.

"I think coach Meyer is going to take this team to another level. When you go there, there's going to be something special and I don't want to be the person that says, 'man, I wish I went there.'," he said. "Urban Meyer is a good coach and they're going to win a lot of championships there. I'm hoping to just bring my hard work, determination and must-win-attitude to this team. I hate losing because it hurts, I'm a winner."

This fall Gator fans will see Johnson take two visits to Gainesville.

"I'm planning on taking an unofficial and an official this fall," he said. "I'm planning one visit for the Tennessee game and the other for the Florida State game. I'm going to be looking to see that game-time atmosphere during those visits."

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