Dillan Johnson was patient, surveyed the field, and made the right decision.
It’s a scenario that played out hundreds of time over his football career on Friday nights as a ball carrier, but this was more about his future than first downs and football.
The Mountain Pointe running back probably had the talent and heart to play at a small Division I program, but those offers never came.
The senior is only 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds.
Unless he was a kicker with a strong leg, the interest was going to be minimal based on his “measurables” alone.
He knew this going into the recruiting process and that’s why on Feb. 1, when most football players were announcing their decision, he was still scheduling visits.
“I knew the DI guys were already done and signed (their letters of intent) and it was kind of hard knowing a lot of the guys I played with or against were fulfilling their dreams,” Johnson said. “But I had to stay patient and make sure I found the right place for me instead of deciding because everyone else was doing it.”
It became a drawn out process that eventually led to the choice of Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, last week. In the end it was between Dixie State and Menlo College in Atherton, Calif.
Neither program is going to be showing up in prime time anytime soon, but that wasn’t something Johnson was seeking out.
College programs are doing everything they can to catch a recruit’s eyes these days — whether it is a gazillion uniform combinations for the top programs or having games on the very untraditional Tuesday night for the smaller conferences — but Johnson was mature enough to find the right place for himself instead of the perfect color scheme.
Otherwise, he would have more aggressively pursued higher-profile programs that showed initial interest in him like Montana, Valparaiso, Nebraska Kearney, Cornell or Penn.
Instead, he and his stepfather, Craig Fouhy, took the time to drive around the West Coast visiting schools like Cal Lutheran and University of Redlands.
“I was looking at more long-range goals like not owing so much money after I graduate,” he said. “Football was important, of course, but it was more about what kind of position I was going to be in four or five years from now.”
Johnson, who was singled out by many opposing coaches as the best player on the field after games this year, knew he wanted a small campus where college life is more intimate than intimidating.
“There are pros and cons with either (type of campus),” he said. “Football is what I love but it is only going to be there for so long, so I wanted to find a good fit academically and a lifestyle more than anything.”
Johnson wants to pursue a business degree and dabble in physical training, all of which Dixie State offers along with a chance to play Division II football.
As far as the football end of it, after all it has been a goal of Johnson to play in college as long as he can remember, the Red Storm is coming off a difficult season (1-10) and hasn’t had a winning campaign since 2005.
It didn’t deter Johnson from deciding on Dixie State.
“I loved the coaching staff and they are awesome,” he said. “In both of my visits, I felt comfortable, welcomed and I could see myself going there.”
Pride coach Norris Vaughan has said on numerous occasions that Johnson was the team’s best player and could play at the next level.
“Wherever he ends up he will be successful,” Vaughan said during the season. “He’s a winner and he will make any program better.”
Johnson, who rushed for 1,287 yards with 16 touchdowns when he wasn’t filling in time at quarterback where he accounted for 295 more yards and five touchdowns, said Dixie State coaches believe he could see the field as a kick/punt returner initially while seeing time at running back and slot receiver.
“I just want a chance to keep playing and I think I found the right place for so many reasons,” said Johnson, won had two returns for touchdowns last year. “If a (Division I program) came with a late offer I would have had to think about it, of course, but I honestly think I still would have gone to Dixie State.”
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