MIAMI, Fla. — Deandre Johnson has been tuned into Tennessee football all season, even when he was committed to Mississippi State for a few months.
“Watching them play Florida, I was still pulling for the Vols,” said Johnson, who flipped his commitment from the Bulldogs to Tennessee this past Monday. “I was like, they’ve got to win this.”
The Vols did win, of course, pulling away for a 38-28 victory over the Gators to end an 11-year losing streak in the series.
Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end and one of three pending early signees for Tennessee expected to enroll in early January, said he sees even bigger things ahead.
“First reason is Butch Jones, good coach, great leader, a player’s coach,” Johnson told SEC Country in an exclusive interview at his home this week that included a lengthy Facebook Live presentation.
“I like the way he lets his players play, and we’ll be talented, so we just have to work on gelling together in that winning culture.”
Tennessee finished the regular season 8-4 and plays Nebraska (9-3) in the Music City Bowl at 3:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 30.
Johnson said he’s well aware many Vols fans are disappointed. But he said some of the things he has read on social media indicate there are some in the Tennessee fan base who don’t understand the dynamics of the situation.
“I feel like the biggest things fans don’t understand is that every one and every program goes through adversity,” Johnson said. “I went through it this year with my team when we lost a couple of games and people started saying we were overrated.
“I felt like Tennessee bounced back,’ Johnson said. “Coach Jones was under a tremendous amount of pressure, and the way he responded, he got the team to rally back together and they started winning ball games again.”
The Vols opened the season 5-0 and climbed into the top 10 of the rankings, but a double-overtime loss at Texas A&M triggered a three-game slide.
Tennessee rallied by winning three of its four games in November to match last season’s regular-season win total despite an uncharacteristically high rate of attrition.
“People don’t realize that adversity, when it hits, it hits hard,” Johnson said, “and you have to come together and gel toward overcoming the obstacles.”
Johnson’s Miami Southridge team bounced back from back-to-back losses in September to record seven consecutive shutout victories en route to the Class 8A state championship on Dec. 10 in Orlando, Fla.
Johnson said his high school team met and decided to put the team first, and he believes the same sort of espirit de corps will take place among Tennessee’s incoming class of recruits.
“When you’re bringing in a lot of talent, there’s going to be a lot of egos and personalities, so this guy wants the ball, or this guy wants every tackle,” Johnson said. “So we have to come in and play for the team and be all for one, do your assignment and know the man next to you will do his.
“The rest will take care of itself.”
Johnson also had scholarship offers from Auburn, West Virginia and South Carolina, among several other schools.
To see Deandre Johnson’s 40-minute Facebook Live interview with Mike Griffith, CLICK HERE