Kids today. After their football careers, they have a future as Hollywood directors.
It began with Johnson watching videos of his famous father, Keyshawn Sr., hauling in touchdown passes for USC. It went on as a biographical journey for the son, showing him at various ages of his childhood, being coached by his dad, following in his footsteps.
Props to Johnson here: most kids his age cringe at the thought of anyone seeing their home movies.
The video is like a love letter to his father. Johnson says, “But I’m more than just my name. I’m here to blaze my own trail, build my own legacy, work for my future. The expectations are high, the pressure immense. Do I take his torch or light my own?”
Then we get to the punch line: Someone throws Johnson a red towel that says “Huskers.” He says, “Go Big Red.”
And thousands of Nebraska fans are ready to award him an Oscar for best recruiting video.
Once upon a time, Jeff Kinney probably just picked up a rotary phone and called Bob Devaney to tell him he was coming. Tommie Frazier’s high school coach announced his news. Those were simpler times.
This is the world we live in. Perfect. Johnson’s video was tasteful, not boastful. He appears to be a great kid, rooted, level-headed. He’s having fun with it.
It’s the new definition of hip in college football. It creates buzz.
And now some of that buzz has found its way to Lincoln, Nebraska.
Johnson is a four-star receiver from Los Angeles, the son of a USC and NFL star who also found his way onto the set of ESPN’s NFL pregame show. It’s a highly recognizable, perhaps highly profitable situation for Nebraska coach Mike Riley.
But it’s worth noting here that, with all this new-school stuff going on, this was a decision rooted in an old-school concept.
It’s called a relationship.
Twenty years ago, Riley was the offensive coordinator at USC. Johnson Sr. was his star receiver. Riley invited him into the quarterback meetings. They forged a bond, a trust that would become a friendship.
Over the years, they kept in touch.
Now, 20 years later, Riley is still coaching. Now he’s about to coach two generations of Keyshawn. That should make him feel old. Also, it will make him a lot smarter as a coach.
Riley did not befriend Johnson because he thought he might have a kid down the road who could score some touchdowns. But there’s a lesson, and some good karma, in this story.
Now, what kind of karma might it produce for Riley’s Huskers?
There are recruits and there are recruits who bring with them a set of keys that unlock doors. Frazier was one such fellow back in 1992. When he selected Nebraska, it turned heads and wrote headlines nationwide. Other talented recruits followed him to Lincoln. Frazier signing with NU was the spark that started the blaze that was the 1990s.
I’m not here to compare Johnson Jr. to Tommie Legend. But the legacy might have a coattail effect.
» The Buzz Factor.
Coaches live the endless life of airplanes and hotels. But in today’s world, kids recruit kids, too. Sometimes, they do it better than coaches.
They do it by Internet. They do it by texting. So many of the top recruits, in football and basketball, know each other. Sometimes they follow each other.
Johnson has a handful of highly rated recruits on his Calabasas High team. Some have traveled with him to Lincoln already. Meanwhile, Johnson has the kind of credibility nationally that might make other recruits see this commitment as a validation of Riley and Nebraska.
You wanted NU to become nationally relevant again, right? Well, that may have just happened.
Then there’s the Keyshawn Sr. factor. He will be one. Count on it. A couple of weeks ago, Johnson attended NU spring practice with his son. It was raining. He borrowed a jacket. It was red, with a white “N.”
The image of Keyshawn Johnson Sr. wearing Husker gear is just beginning. Also, shots of Johnson at games. Practices. Talk about advertising.
And that “Team19 All-Stars,” the 7-on-7 team that KJ Sr. coaches, the one with all those prospects? They might hear a word or two about Nebraska.
There are other potential impacts here.
» If Johnson opens the door for more skilled receivers and quarterbacks coming to Lincoln, I can hear Husker fans (and media!) now. What are they doing running the ball so much?
I believe Riley when he says he wants an impactful running game. You’ve got to have one to win a championship. But if he wants to lean back on the passing game, well, it’s a proven fact: offenses work with great players running the plays. And don’t forget those big guys up front.
» This commitment could give Riley more credibility as Nebraska coach — and I mean here at home.
If this leads to a big recruiting class in 2017, it might quiet some of the extremely loud noises heard after last season’s loss to Purdue. It certainly could change the narrative that Riley is on a short leash, and give him some room. Of course, the coach has to help himself on the field, too. Riley will be judged on W’s and L’s. But more kids like Johnson Jr. should help with the former.
It could be that all that happened Wednesday was Nebraska got a commitment from a good, level-headed kid who can play a little football. Perfect. That never goes out of style.
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