Stuart Johnson is a three-year starter on the line for Wesleyan after just starting to play football as an eighth-grader. He’s already received 10 college scholarship offers and is drawing interest from a range of other schools, including Harvard, because of his mix of talent, skill and intelligence. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
THE JOHNSON FILE
Who: Stuart Johnson
Favorite movie: “300”
Favorite athlete: J.J. Watt
Favorite sports team: Atlanta Falcons
Favorite music artist: Kanye West
Favorite food: Chinese food
Dream job: Playing in the NFL
• Became two-way starter on line as sophomore after not playing football until eighth grade
• Has offers from 10 colleges, including Navy, Air Force and Appalachian State
• Was selected by the Wesleyan faculty as the most outstanding male student in his class at the end of last year
• Has a 3.7 GPA and has been a member of Mensa since he was in fifth grade
Stuart Johnson stands out.
The Wesleyan lineman is hard to miss at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds. But it’s so much more than a physical distinction.
Johnson really stands out because of his intelligence and personality.
“He stands out on our campus because of his stature and his character,” football head coach Franklin Pridgen said. “There’s no question the first time you meet Stuart, he’s got his act together. You look around and it’s not just on the football field where he shines.”
Johnson has a 3.7 GPA at the academically stringent Norcross private school and is a member of Mensa. He’s in the national honor society and Wesleyan’s honor council. He was selected by the faculty as the best boy in his class at the end of last year.
“He never thinks that he knows enough or has done enough,” Pridgen said.
That extends from the classroom to the football field.
“I just appreciate his attitude, his effort and his execution,” Pridgen said. “I just think he’s a very special young man — which is why he’s got as much college interest as he has.”
Johnson, playing football for just his fifth season, has 10 college scholarship offers. He’s drawn interest from numerous other schools as well and has another season to impress the recruiters. The progress he’s made just in the last few years puts the ceiling pretty high.
“When Stuart arrived as a ninth-grader, he thought he was a wide receiver,” Pridgen said with a wry smile. “Clearly, that’s not God’s gifts to him. But his football IQ and experience were extremely limited. We had a kid we saw had great potential but he was a long way from being where he needed to be.”
Johnson went to Hull Middle School in Duluth as an eighth-grader and started playing football. Well, he was on the team anyway.
“I didn’t get any playing time,” Johnson said.
He moved to Wesleyan for high school, picking it over Marist when his dad wanted him to attend a Christian school with a strong academic curriculum.
“It was definitely a great opportunity for me,” Johnson said. “A new place, a new slate. I did a lot better than I thought I would (on the football team). I played on the JV team because that was back when (current Georgia Bulldog starting center) David Andrews and all those guys were here.”
“I played well enough to get the JV lineman award, as big as that is,” he said with an endearing grin. “But freshman year was a big jump from eighth grade.”
The summer before his sophomore year, Johnson was in the weight room and jumped from 180 pounds to 230. He earned a spot on varsity and started on both sides of a senior-dominated line.
“That should tell you a lot about where he came from and how far he traveled,” Pridgen said. “Last year he was an all-state lineman and got 10 offers based on highlights from his junior year. What’s he capable of this year? I think the sky’s the limit.”
Navy, Air Force and Appalachian State top Johnson’s list of suitors right now, but more offers may be forthcoming. He’s had interest from the Ivy League, including Harvard.
“I definitely took care of what I needed to take care of the past three years,” Johnson said. “To get looks from schools like Harvard and UPenn lets me know I’m doing pretty well with my academics.”
The time will come when Johnson has to make a decision on what is most important. All his offers mean playing football and getting an education. Some mean 80,000 screaming fans. Some mean studying under the best minds in the country.
“I’m trying to wait a little bit and see how it unfolds,” Johnson said. “I feel really blessed having the offers I do have. A lot of kids are sitting at home wondering if they’re going to get one offer and I have 10. So I’m definitely thankful to be where I am at.
“Back in ninth grade, I just played football because I liked it. Now seeing that I’m actually pretty good at it and being able to go to college and play is a great thing.”
Johnson was moved from tackle to guard this season and is helping bring along some of the younger players.
“Stuart takes his craft very seriously,” Pridgen said. “He’s very goal oriented. He knows what he wants. He’s willing to do whatever he has to to get there.
“After starting for three years, this year he’s become pretty much a coach on the field. He tells everybody else what to do. He tells everybody else what he thinks about their effort if it’s not good enough. I just really appreciate having him out there and it’s going to pay off in the long run for us.”