Georgia Tech Receiver Changes Coach's Thinking

Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson was named the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.
Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson was named the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. (AP)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., July 24 -- Chan Gailey's 32 years of experience as a football coach told him wide receivers can't catch passes like the one he was watching, certainly not freshmen. Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball's throw was three yards behind Calvin Johnson, and it was time to start thinking about the next play.

But Johnson, crossing the middle of the field against North Carolina State two years ago, stopped suddenly and jumped. He twisted his torso and flung his right arm behind him, grabbing the ball with one hand before falling on his side.

Gailey, Georgia Tech's head coach, turned to an assistant on the sideline.

"Did he catch it?" he asked.

He did, and he's been adding to his library of highlight snags ever since. Now a junior, Johnson could be this season's Reggie Bush, an acrobat in cleats who challenges normal concepts of what humans can do on a football field, a player who makes "SportsCenter" TiVo material.

His name has been bandied about in Heisman Trophy conversations, and Monday he was named the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. He earned 50 of 65 votes. Miami quarterback Kyle Wright was second, with five votes.

"I've never had anybody this big, this fast, with this good of hand-eye coordination," said Gailey, who coached in the NFL for 16 years. "Never, ever. What's his ceiling? I've got no clue."

Johnson is 6 feet 4, 235 pounds, possesses a 45-inch vertical leap and hand-eye coordination he honed as a star center fielder growing up.

Sitting in a room full of the best players in the ACC, Johnson still stuck out. Boston College safety Ryan Glasper had watched Johnson play several times, but never met him up close.

"When I saw him in person -- oh, my God," Glasper said. "That's a specimen."

Said Boston College Coach Tom O'Brien: "He's a giant. Thank God we don't have to play him."

Johnson, who had 54 catches for 888 yards last year, danced around questions about possibly leaving Tech after this season, saying only that he came to school wanting to earn his degree, and that those plans haven't changed.


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