LINCOLN — Keyshawn Johnson Jr. — one of the most touted wide receiver recruits in recent Nebraska football history — is taking an extended leave of absence from the Husker program in hope of returning in January, his father, Keyshawn Johnson Sr., said Tuesday night.
The younger Johnson had enrolled at NU in January, a semester early, in hope of playing in 2017. He returned home to Calabasas, California, Tuesday after what the elder Johnson called a joint decision among himself, Nebraska coach Mike Riley and the Huskers’ athletic department. Keyshawn Johnson Sr. wants his son to “mature” for six months before considering a return to the school.
“You’re in college now,” Johnson Sr. said. “You’re an adult. You’re not a kid. You take a look at it from afar and let me know how important it is to you.”
Riley confirmed via text the younger Johnson’s leave of absence.
The elder Johnson, who had an 11-year NFL career, said he’s on the same page with Riley, who used to be his offensive coordinator at USC. That relationship — forged more than two decades ago — helped Riley and Nebraska start a “Calibraska” recruiting movement in Los Angeles. Johnson Jr. — a four-star recruit in the 2017 recruiting class from Calabasas High School — was a centerpiece, but hardly the only recruit.
Calabasas quarterback Tristan Gebbia also enrolled early and has drawn raves from Husker coaches and teammates for his work ethic and preternatural grasp of the game. Husker safety Marquel Dismuke is from the same school. NU’s top 2018 recruit, cornerback Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles, played his junior year at Calabasas, too.
Johnson Sr. said he’s in “full support” of Riley, receivers coach Keith Williams and the rest of NU’s staff. He wants to see more maturity from his son.
“One thing you will not do as my son is you will not embarrass Nebraska, you will not embarrass Mike Riley and you will not embarrass this family,” the elder Johnson said. “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”
On Twitter, Johnson Jr. wrote the words “bounce back.” He had a rough start at NU in January. He was struck with an illness that set him back physically and caused him to miss some time in spring practice. He appeared in the spring game, catching one pass for 7 yards. He lost a fumble at the end of that play.
In June, Johnson was cited on suspicion of marijuana possession after, according to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln police report, a dorm hall director detected marijuana use coming from a dorm room. Johnson was reportedly found with less than an ounce of marijuana and drug paraphernalia on a Friday afternoon.
Less than two weeks later, he’s back at home with his dad, the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NFL draft and longtime pro football analyst. Johnson Sr. said he wasn’t sure about his son’s opinion on the leave of absence.
“I never asked him,” Johnson Sr. said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think that decision was in his hands. He squandered that decision. He still wants to play football, and he still wants to play for Nebraska. But if you don’t do the things you’re supposed to do, under the guidelines of me, it’s not going to happen.”
Because of the illness and slow start, Johnson wasn’t necessarily a candidate to burn his redshirt in 2017, but his departure for this season thins the receiver room. Nebraska now has seven scholarship wideouts on the roster, and one of those is technically Zack Darlington, the extra-point and field goal holder who’s thrown more career passes as an emergency quarterback than he’s caught passes. The others are senior De’Mornay Pierson-El, juniors Stanley Morgan and Keyan Williams and freshmen JD Spielman, Jaevon McQuitty and Tyjon Lindsey, and all six may have to log significant snaps. Walk-ons Bryan Reimers, Gabe Rahn, Conor Young and others should be in the mix, too.
NU has had a number of receivers leave the program or be dismissed in the last 24 months. Kevin Gladney, Jariah Tolbert and Glenn Irons left in 2015. Derrion Grim enrolled early in 2016, impressed coaches in spring practice, and then abruptly left just before fall camp in 2016. He’s now at Fresno State. Lavan Alston left the program before the 2016 Music City Bowl. None of that quintet logged a career catch at NU.
Johnson Jr. may very well return to Nebraska, his dad said. He may take classes this fall at a junior college, and the son doesn’t plan to play college football anywhere else. Johnson Sr. said his son doesn’t have to play college football, but if he’s going to, he has to embrace the rigors of the sport.
“You’ve watched — on Instagram, on Facebook, on Twitter — everything’s a big party,” Johnson Sr. said. “You just want to get to college to party, but you don’t understand: You’re playing college football. It’s a business. And it’s a serious business. If you want to become successful — make it to the NFL — you’ve got to embrace it. You’ve got to own it. You don’t make it to the next level by cruising. There’s no cruise control.
“There’s no ‘Mike Riley is good friends with Keyshawn, so his son’s automatically going to play.’ That’s not the game. That’s not why he went to Nebraska. He went there to work his tail off. To have an opportunity to be successful. But when you don’t do that — and you squander that — what are you going to do?”
Do you think wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr. will return to the Nebraska football program?
Keyshawn Johnson Jr. is taking an extended leave of absence from the Husker program in hope of returning in January, his father, Keyshawn Johnson Sr., said. Johnson Sr. wants his son to “mature” for six months before considering a return to the school. Will Johnson Jr. return to the Huskers in January?