KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Deandre Johnson was a part of Mississippi State’s 2017 class for more than four months, but the 3-star defensive end ultimately decided he was a better fit at a different SEC program.
“It was something about the school. Something about them. It fascinated me,” Johnson told me.
“When I went up there on my official, I just felt it in the air. I just felt it in my heart. It was the place for me to be. It just felt right.”
Johnson hails from Miami Southridge (Fla.) and holds more than a dozen offers. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound pass rusher will enroll early in January. He also just won a state title with the Spartans on Friday, finishing the season with 15 sacks.
“I’m a state champ and a Vol,” he said. “It doesn’t get better than that.”
Similarly to recent linebacker commit Shanon Reid, Johnson wasn’t on Tennessee’s radar roughly six weeks ago. He’d camped with UT over the summer, earning an offer. But after he committed to MSU in July, contact between he and Tennessee all but stopped.
Then, defensive line coach Steve Stripling went and watched Johnson play in mid-October. A rapid recruitment started thereafter. He took an official visit to Tennessee on Nov. 10-12, and the Vols left a real impression on Johnson and his family.
A month later, “a tough decision” ended with him committing to the Vols. While he liked a lot about MSU, he felt Tennessee was simply a better fit.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason. This is where God wanted me to be,” Johnson said.
“I’m very happy.”
Like Trey Smith, Johnson was drawn to Tennessee because of its opportunities after football. The ‘Vol for Life’ program was a real selling point — maybe even moreso than football itself.
“They have so many connections. Not only with football, but after. The career plans they have set up. The academics. Everything is scripted,” he said.
“They highlight academics. This game is not forever. I have to have something to lean on. It was very important. That was more important than the football part, really.”
His family felt the same way, but they let Johnson make the best decision for himself.
“They had a feeling Tennessee was the right place for me, too. They let me make the decision on my own. They had no say-so, but they felt like Tennessee was a better place for me,” he said.
“They felt more comfortable at Tennessee. And in the end, we all just had that feeling. I just made the decision.”
Johnson hosted Stripling and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop in-home Sunday evening before the NCAA-mandated contact period ended.
The visit “was great,” as Johnson got a deeper look at how Tennessee plans to use him in the future.
“We’ve bonded. We have been talking a lot about the plans that they have for me.
“Shoop said there’s something they just really like about me. They see my thriving well at Tennessee,” Johnson explained.
“They want to keep me around 250-255 at end. But I can also go in and play the 3-technique inside and rush on some third-and-longs. Get some packages in there for that. I’ll drop back sometimes, too. I’ll be used three or four different ways. Anyway I can make plays, I’ll do it.”