Receiver commit Jordan Johnson brings strong work ethic to Notre Dame

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

A 15-year-old Jordan Johnson came prepared.

His phone contained a litany of questions. A lot needed to be learned in Johnson’s first formal meeting with Robert Steeples, St. Louis DeSmet Jesuit’s head football coach. He needed to know if this school fulfilled his needs — academically and on the field.

Johnson spent his freshman year in the shadows at Marquette High across town. All Steeples knew about Johnson came from one of his students, a friend of Johnson’s who helped orchestrate the meeting.

Little did Steeples know, Johnson would become his leading receiver and Notre Dame’s top offensive commit for its 2020 class.

“There’s a lot of young men that come into my office, and they talk a lot,” Steeples said. “But to see the amount of work and competitiveness he followed that talk with the next week when we got to get out there in practice was very impressive.”

Steeples tasked DeSmet’s best cornerback at the time with covering Johnson in practice. Though 6-foot-2 with legitimate speed, he was no match for Johnson.

“Jordan took it to him,” Steeples said. “I was just thinking, ‘Oh, the kid’s adrenaline is rushed. He’s pumped up.’ But he consistently got after that guy. That guy got better, Jordan got better and as they got plays off of each other, they kept wanting to play against each other.”

The Spartans finished 1-9 in Johnson’s sophomore season. In Steeples’ first season the year before, they trudged to 2-8. But Johnson continued to push his teammates, particularly cornerback Jakailin Johnson (no relation) out of the 2021 class.

DeSmet’s 2018 squad featured the Johnson tandem. The Spartans finished 9-3 and reached the quarterfinals of the MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) Class 6 playoffs. Jordan caught 28 passes for 721 yards and nine touchdowns. Jakailin accrued an offer from the Irish last month.

“Some of Jordan’s most defining moments with me are in practice,” Steeples said. “When we are in a scout team period, and he’s asking for one more play. Because he wants to get one more rep against (Jakailin) or one of our other cornerbacks.”

An uptick in Johnson’s recruitment followed. Almost every major school in the SEC and Midwest offered him. Johnson garnered his Notre Dame offer in January of 2018.

Now at 6-2, 195 pounds, Johnson ranks as one of this cycle’s top four-star recruits. 247Sports tabs Johnson as its No. 10 receiver and No. 56 overall player. Rivals slates Johnson as its No. 13 receiver and No. 59 overall player. The Irish have not signed a receiver under head coach Brian Kelly ranked as a consensus top 60 overall player.

Allen Trieu, 247Sports’ top Midwest recruiting analyst, played a role in Johnson’s ratings surge. He has observed Johnson work out and practice, in the 7-on-7 circuit and in actual games.

“It’s hard to really find a weakness. There’s nothing glaring,” Trieu said. “Size, measurables, good track speed and all of that is there. He goes up and gets the football extremely well. I think that ability to make catches in traffic and win contested balls, that’s very evident. He does some good things after the catch. They throw him screens. They throw him short passes. And he can take those the distance.

“Any box you need checked for an elite wide receiver prospect, he’s got it.”

Johnson’s tape does not tell the full story, Trieu said. One glance will hint Johnson runs a 40-yard dash ranging from 4.5 to 4.6 seconds. A majority of his notable receptions come from go routes.

To Trieu, Johnson flashes quick-twitch ability in person. He might even be faster on the field than in comfortable garments with a stopwatch. Johnson proved on the 7-on-7 circuit he’s capable of running the full route tree, Trieu said.

“Going to see him in person and seeing him at camps really helped me,” Trieu said. “Seeing him run a larger variety of routes. He came across as extremely polished. He’s worked at it. And he’s worked with a lot of people that know what they are doing.”

He’s not as big as Chase Claypool or Miles Boykin. Johnson possesses the tools of an outside boundary receiver, though. When Johnson arrives, sophomore Kevin Austin Jr. might be his only competition at that position.

However, Johnson could play multiple receiver positions. The same could be said for Austin. Roster needs and development should determine which position best suits them.

Trieu compares Johnson to Keenan Allen, who appeared in back-to-back Pro Bowls for the Los Angeles Chargers over the last two years. Steeples relates him to Jeremy Maclin, a former NFL first-round pick in 2009. Maclin played with Steeples at the University of Missouri.

“He’s a truly dynamic athlete,” Steeples said of Johnson. “I’ve seen many in my day, and there’s not many quite like him.”

Trieu does not expect Johnson to add much weight to his frame. Improving speed and strength will be his focus instead. Johnson wants to catch more than 28 passes across 12 games.

“You would like for him to be more of the dominant guy on the offense,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “The best player on the team. I know he’s double-teamed, but I’d still like to see a few more balls thrown his way.”

Steeples thinks back to that meeting. And the times Johnson asked for more scout team reps. Johnson committed to the Irish during his official visit earlier this month.

Though, that won’t change his work ethic and preparation.

“Once he did commit, that same day he was talking to me about the different types of drill work he wants to get in as well,” Steeples said. “Now that that’s behind him. This guy is trying to take advantage of every day to get better.”

St. Louis DeSmet's Jordan Johnson (left), a 2020 wide receiver, committed to Notre Dame on April 6, 2019.