The Daily Eastern News

A road less traveled: How Eastern’s Dytarious Johnson went from a Michigan recruit, to one of the OVC’s best talents

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Eastern sophomore linebacker Dytarious Johnson looms over the defensive line as he prepares to defend in a practice at O’Brien Field in October. Johnson is second on the team with 60 tackles and first with 12 tackles for loss.

Eastern sophomore linebacker Dytarious Johnson looms over the defensive line as he prepares to defend in a practice at O’Brien Field in October. Johnson is second on the team with 60 tackles and first with 12 tackles for loss.

JJ Bullock

JJ Bullock

Eastern sophomore linebacker Dytarious Johnson looms over the defensive line as he prepares to defend in a practice at O’Brien Field in October. Johnson is second on the team with 60 tackles and first with 12 tackles for loss.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

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Eastern sophomore linebacker Dytarious Johnson’s football career was originally not supposed to happen at Eastern. 

The six-foot-one, 255-pound linebacking product from Alabama was tagged as a three-star recruit coming out of Prattville High School and committed to play football at the University of Michigan, a perennial powerhouse in the Big 10 conference. But an issue with transcripts led to Michigan dropping his commitment in late November, coming as a shock to Johnson and his recruiter, neither of whom were notified immediately.

When Johnson found out he was dropped from Michigan and would not be playing in the Big 10, he said that at first it was tough for him to handle, as the news came so unexpectedly. 

“I put a lot of time and effort into that one school just to be dropped without them telling me upfront,” Johnson said. “I just felt betrayed I guess.”

That is all in the past now, however, for Johnson, and he truly believes that all of that happened for the best and that Eastern is exactly where he is meant to be. Any thoughts of “what if” no longer cycle through his head.

“I am kind of happy I didn’t go (to Michigan),” Johnson said. “It would have worked out for the best for me to come (to Eastern) in the first place. Originally, I wanted to go somewhere with my friends, I wanted to go with somebody that I knew, but they all ended up leaving anyways, so I really didn’t care that I didn’t go there anymore.”

Johnson transferred from Prattville High School after his junior year and attended Alabama Prep in Birmingham, Ala. One of his coaches at Alabama Prep had a connection at Eastern and made a call, Johnson was brought to campus quickly and is now one of the Ohio Valley Conference’s most intriguing young talents. 

Johnson has all of the physical traits a team could ask for in a linebacker. He is strong; this summer a video was posted of him squatting 800 lbs, and that strength shows. Johnson hits ball carriers hard, plain and simple. The crack of padding when a ball carrier is unfortunate enough to meet Johnson head-on can be heard at the top levels of most press boxes and reverberates through a stadium like a firecracker. Johnson adds to his strength with speed not found in most OVC linebackers, as Johnson can often track down most running backs, and certainly most quarterbacks, trying to escape him in the open field. 

The talent of Johnson is without question; prior to the season Eastern’s defensive coordinator said Johnson had the potential to be one of the best players in all of FCS football. But, Johnson is also admittedly inconsistent on the football field as a sophomore. At times he can look lost on defense, being out of place or sometimes even missing tackles. 

“Some days I feel like I’ll go full speed; some days I just think too much, and my emotions or my injuries hold me back,” Johnson said. “So, I just have to focus on being more full-throttle all the time.”

But, when Johnson is on full-throttle mode, there are not many players on Eastern’s defense that can change a game like he can. Johnson leads the team with 12 tackles for loss this season and is second with 60 total tackles. 

Both injuries and his mind have held Johnson back at time this season. He has been dealing with a shoulder injury all season, that has at times knocked him out of games for brief periods in time. He also hurt his hand in a game this season. 

“I have basically been just nervous to play because of my shoulder. I hurt my shoulder I think a week before the first game, so it got worse, and I started being hesitant about a lot of stuff because I was scared to hit my with my body,” Johnson said. “But after a while I just said, ‘I don’t really care anymore, I just have to do what’s best for the team.’ So, I just started playing.”

To work through his injuries and stay on the field, Johnson has spent a lot of time in the training room trying to “help himself out.” He also tries to keep himself healthy in practice, and if the team is doing something he knows could re-aggravate his injury, he sits it out. But when it comes to game day, however, Johnson tries not to think about his injuries and just plays football how he knows, fast and brutal. 

“I just try to be the best player I can be; I try to get back on the field as much as possible because I know my teammates want me back on the field,” Johnson said. “So, it’s really not about me.”

His brain too is something that often gets in the way of Johnson playing at his full potential. 

Johnson is an overthinker and often over-analyzes what is happening on the field, which leads to him sometimes being out of place on the field. 

This is something that Eastern head coach Kim Dameron says is part of a maturity and learning process with a player like Johnson. It is something though that can be expected of a player as young as Johnson working as large of a role as he has. 

“He kind of over-analyzes things sometimes, which can kind of paralyze yourself a little bit because you’re analyzing stuff too much, or I think sometimes his feelings sometimes kind of get in the way of his ability to just go play,” Dameron said. “That’s the maturity part I am talking about. There is more to growing up than just getting the reps and understanding the game. There is a lot more to playing college football at a high level and growing up, not only physically, but emotionally, and just understanding the schemes better and all of that, but he has got a lot of natural talent.”

One of the challenges with a player like Johnson for coaches is how physically gifted he is. He can make all the plays a division athlete can be expected to make and then some, but Dameron said that getting a young player to just be in the right spots and have their eyes looking in the right places is something that is a part of the developing process.

“Like all players that try to make the jump from high school to college there is a transition period,” Dameron said. “He is towards the end of his sophomore season now, and we’re seeing a lot of improvement in him and his game and his maturity, and we’re hoping for the next two years that he is really going to play at a high level.”

Johnson’s goal is certainly to play at the next level in the NFL, and he has the physical attributes to do so, but both he and Dameron said making that jump will depend on more than just on the field play. Dameron said Johnson needs to be willing to work to bring his top game every week to be at the next level some day. Johnson himself recognized he still has a long way to go before the NFL. 

“Maybe in the future I think I could (play in the NFL), but as of right now, no,” Johnson said. “I don’t think I am there mentally yet. I have a lot of stuff to work out on and off the field. But, in the future I think I could be able to get myself there by the end, and I’ll be ready.”

Johnson still has two years to ready himself for the next level. On a physical and talent scale, Johnson has the right tools to be ready when the time comes. But, it will be his growth mentally that will make the biggest difference for Johnson, not just in the future, but immediately for Eastern’s hard-hitting, uber-talented, middle linebacker. 

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]

About the Contributor
JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Hey, I'm JJ Bullock and I am the Sports Editor. I am a junior journalism major. I spent last year as the Assistant Sports Editor. Prior to that I served...

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A road less traveled: How Eastern’s Dytarious Johnson went from a Michigan recruit, to one of the OVC’s best talents