Living in Billings, Mont., Eric Johnson was interested in trying to gain more exposure to college football coaches and possibly earn a scholarship.

DeMatha's Eric Johnson, facing camera, celebrates a defensive stop during Saturday’s 13-7 win at St. John’s. (Toni L. Sandys/WASHINGTON POST)

But after joining the Stags for a spring workout in their gym – his father, also Eric, had come to know DeMatha defensive coordinator Deno Campbell through working for USA Football – Johnson decided to transfer to the Hyattsville private school.

“I came down and worked out and it was amazing seeing the difference in talent,” Johnson said. “There is some talent in Montana, but not like here. I came out and did pretty well and got noticed a bit. Some of the coaches said, ‘We’d love to have you on our team.’ ”

Johnson was born in Annapolis and his mother is from Bowie. But the Johnsons relocated to Montana when Eric was three years old. He lived there until last school year, when he decided to move cross-country and attend DeMatha. With family still in the area, Johnson at first planned to stay with an uncle in Denton, on the Eastern Shore.

After realizing how far the drive was, he moved in with one of DeMatha’s tutors for last school year and this school year is living with the family of teammate Jamie Colon.

“It’s almost like I get to prepare for college a little early,” Johnson said. “I’m a lot more independent. You can do a lot here. You can take a day trip to New York City. In Montana, you can be driving a day and still be in the state.”

The safety had to wait a year for his chance to play — backing up Iowa recruit Jordan Lomax last season — but Johnson now is making the most of it.

This past Saturday, as St. John’s faced a critical third-and-8 from the DeMatha 32-yard line and the game tied midway through the fourth quarter, Johnson blitzed from the quarterback’s blind side. Quarterback Ben Onett, a Temple recruit, never saw what was coming until after the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Johnson hit him in the back with such force that Onett had a sprained right knee and sprained right ankle from the impact.

On the next play, Johnson blitzed again, this time sacking backup quarterback Omar Truitt, a top sophomore prospect. That good field position led to the winning touchdown as DeMatha won 13-7.

Johnson said he has heard from coaches at Iowa, Syracuse and most recently North Carolina.

“The Tar Heels said they were prepared to offer,” he said after Saturday’s game. “I’m sending them four game films, hopefully this one will be a good one to send.”