After a head-turning official visit to Cal on the 6th-8th just a week after committing to Arizona State, Pierce defensive end Jonathan Johnson all but publicly switched his commitment to Cal.
Today, the 6-2/240 soph defensive end made it official, inking a National Letter of Intent to play for the Bears. Completing his AA this semester, Johnson was eligible for the early signing period and will enroll at Cal this spring and participate in spring practice.
"I was just mainly weighing ASU and Cal and felt like Cal was the best long term decision for me," said Johnson. "That's where I have the best opportunity with the degree and my ability to make an impact on the field right away.
"They'll be playing me at weakside rusher and I'm excited about how'd they'll be using me there."
"Jonathan's a very quick and aggressive pass rusher," said Pierce assistant coach Mike Hill. "Coming out of junior college, he's only going to get stronger and faster in a program like Cal, where he'll get in a good strength and conditioning program and put on good weight."
Johnson's 4.7 forty speed will definitely serve him well, as will other elements of his game.
"I'm quick out there but I feel like I have good hands and good technique and I consider myself a student of the game, watching film and doing anything I can to get better," said Johnson.
Johnson will bring the type of on-field intensity that the Bears often lacked in recent years -a welcome addition to a defense that often found itself on it's heels.
"He's night and day on and off the field, said Hill. "On the field, he's a guy that gets everyone pumped up. Very loud, very emotional -in a good way. And off the field, he's more quiet and calm -something you wouldn't expect after seeing him on the field."
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes was thrilled to add Johnson to the roster, noting that the experience and physical maturity that junior college players can bring to the table can often bring immediate dividends.
"We sat down and said, 'What do we need to do to get better?'
"I think it always begins up front. It certainly begins with a pass rusher.
"Jonathan Johnson was a guy we set our sights on on day one as a pass rushing defensive end.
"We felt like he was the best fit for us academically and athletically. He was the speed rusher we needed and the more we recruited him, the more we liked him.
"I love the way the kid plays. He plays with a lot of passion, a lot of emotion. He really has a passion for playing the game. That's important to get those kinds of kids into our program.
"He's one of those guys that the more information we got on him, the more we liked him so we were really fortunate to sign him. He was the guy we set our sights on from day one."
Johnson's road to Cal was an unusual one, having prepped in Pittsburgh, PA, moving on to Utah to play JC ball in 2011 before transferring to Pierce in 2012.
Where he's similar to many talented JC players was the initial lack of focus that changed once he saw that a major opportunity could well be available to him if he got his studies in order and produced on the field.
Opportunity came in the form of offers from Cal, Arizona State, Illinois and more, with Johnson taking official visits to all three programs in consecutive weekends.
"Jonathan's kind of typical of many JC players," said Hill. "In high school, he didn't take things seriously and wasn't a qualifier so he went to Snow College in Utah. Then he ended up transferring to Pierce and injured his knee last season so he got a medical redshirt.
Now you see where he is this year: Defensive Player of the Year for our league. He's totally back from his knee strain. We didn't really want to take any chances with him last year. That's why we shut things down for him then."
"In high school, I only had a 1.7 gpa and didn't really take it seriously," said Johnson. "To come from that to having an opportunity to play at the number one public school in the country is an incredible opportunity to do something special. So I was able to use football to help me accomplish what I want in life."
Johnson is wrapping up his AA this month and currently has a 2.7 gpa at Pierce.
If you look at the stat book, one might wonder how a player with fairly modest stats would end up league defensive mvp but that would be because his on-field production didn't match the stat book.
Junior college stats are notoriously inaccurate," said Hill. "If you watch his film, I'd guestimate he has @15 sacks, even though the official stats say only 7 or 8. He has a lot more than that."
Johnson estimated that he had @40 tackles, three batted balls and two forced fumbles in their bowl-winning season to go along with his impressive sack total.
Credit the Cal staff with getting on Johnson first and staying on him in recent months -another factor that paid off in their ability to land Johnson despite his recent commitment to bowl-bound ASU.
"Coach Chachere was actually the first coach to call me and start recruiting me," said Johnson. "He's a pretty good dude, pretty solid.
"I believe in what they're trying to do there at Cal. I'm looking forward to being coached there and working every single day to make my dreams a reality in two years. I'm just ready to work hard and put the work in to reach my goal."
Johnson will come in to Cal with two years to play two seasons.
Johnson signs National Letter of Intent