Top Grid Prospect Gets Letters, Phone Calls--and a Laundry Offer

Times Staff Writer

At times last football season, it seemed as if the telephone would never stop ringing at Michael Johnson's house.

Even after his family moved from Baldwin Park to Downey a few months ago, the calls kept coming.

Johnson, a Baldwin Park High School senior who is considered one of the top college quarterback prospects in the state, remembers the night about two weeks ago when he received 14 calls from recruiters.

"It was just non-stop, one call after another," he recalled.

On a typical night during the season, Johnson said he received about five calls at home, not to mention the calls at school. "You get to a point where you almost expect it to ring," Johnson said.

When Johnson wasn't getting calls from recruiters, he was receiving letters, posters, calendars and bumper stickers in the mail at home and school. Hundreds of them.

The 17-year-old Johnson, who passed for 3,078 yards and 24 touchdowns last season and was named the CIF Southern Section Division III Player of the Year, said he enjoyed the attention--for the most part.

But enough was enough.

Arizona State Wins

After being recruited by at least 50 colleges and visiting five, the 6-3, 175-pound Johnson said he decided last Friday night to attend Arizona State University.

The scenario is similar to that of dozens of players from the Southland who were being recruited to play football at colleges throughout the nation. Most decided by Wednesday, the first day high school seniors could sign letters of intent with NCAA colleges.

For Johnson, letters from recruiters started trickling in around the middle of the football season and increased rapidly. "After the season, for about a two-month period, I was getting six or seven (pieces of mail) a day. They were sending me everything: letters, posters, programs.

"Sometimes I would get the same letters from the same college. Recruiters are like car salesmen selling their school. They try to tell you everything about their school and they tell you anything you want to hear."

Well, almost anything.

"I think the weirdest thing I got was a poster with girls on it," Johnson said. "Nothing about the football team, the school or anything else, just the good-looking girls there."

'I'll Do Your Laundry'

Johnson said one coach told him, "Michael, I can't offer you laundry money but I'll do your laundry if you come here."

But for the most part, Johnson said, recruiters were honest and did not make false promises.

Toward the end of the season Johnson trimmed his list of colleges to Arizona State, Arizona, Washington State, Illinois, Kansas and Nevada-Las Vegas.

After the season he decided to make four of his five allowable recruiting visits (under NCAA rules) to Arizona State, Arizona, Washington State and Nevada-Las Vegas.

Johnson said he pretty much eliminated Washington State and Nevada-Las Vegas after trips there.

"Everybody is nice to you. During those trips they always show you all the glamour spots in town. I thought they (Washington State and Las Vegas) were OK, but I just didn't think I could fit in there. I'm accustomed to the L. A. life and those places are kind of slowed down."

He said he got a much different feeling when he visited Arizona State in Tempe and Arizona in Tucson. Johnson, a business major, said he liked the business programs at both schools.

Met State Stars

"I looked over all of the facilities and they were nice and so were the people. When I first got there they made me feel comfortable right away and it lasted the whole weekend."

Johnson said he particularly liked his trip to Arizona State, where he met two former Baldwin Park High and Arizona State stars, wide receivers Ron Brown and Doug Allen.

Brown, a gold medalist in track in the Summer Olympics, is playing for the Los Angeles Rams, and Allen is expected to be chosen in the 1985 National Football League draft.

"Doug Allen was my host for the trip," Johnson said. "We were riding go-carts at this place and saw Ron Brown there. So we talked for a while about a lot of things."

It apparently was enough to convince Johnson, who said he was leaning toward Arizona State for the last two weeks. He admitted he had second thoughts about playing for the Sun Devils last week after Coach Darryl Rogers announced he was leaving to coach the Detroit Lions.

Recruiters Try Again

After the announcement, some recruiters tried to convince Johnson that their football programs were more stable than Arizona State's.

But most of Johnson's negative feelings were quelled by phone calls from Arizona State coaches and officials, who assured him he was still their top quarterback recruit.

"When he (Rogers) left, that made me think a little more, but I still think Arizona State is the best school for me. The assistant coaching staff will be there for at least one more year so that should at least help me get established," he said.

Johnson took his final recruiting trip to the University of Hawaii over the weekend. But by that time he had decided to attend Arizona State.

He said the hardest part of the recruiting process was telling the losing schools the bad news.

"I feel real bad for the Arizona (assistant) coach, Gary Bernardi, because we've gotten so close over the past few months. That was the hardest part of the whole recruiting thing to have to tell him I wasn't going there. I really liked their school. But I liked Arizona State a little better."

Starring in Basketball

Even with the barrage of mail and phone calls, Johnson has managed to get good grades and make a big contribution on the basketball team. He is leading the team in most offensive categories and is averaging about 20 points and 17 rebounds a game.

He admits that the recruiting may have finally got the best of him during a basketball game last week. "I had 15 points and 10 rebounds but I had only one point at half time. I was letting things bother me and I had no concentration. That was the first time it really bothered me."

But aside from a few distractions, Johnson says he has enjoyed the recruiting. "It hasn't really gotten on my nerves. I like all the attention I've been getting. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so you might as well enjoy it."

But he is happy that it is over. "After you sign, it's a relief. There are no more phone calls and you can finally rest."

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