Hawk Talk Monthly — November | 24 Hawkeyes to Watch 2018-19 | Hawk Talk Daily links | Football Freshman: Tyler Linderbaum | Football Freshman: Kaevon Merriweather | Football Freshman — Dillon Doyle | Football Freshman — Henry Geil | Football Freshman — Julius Brents | Football Freshman — Riley Moss | I-Club Events Page | VIDEO — DJ Johnson | Football Freshman: Seth Benson | Football Freshman: Nico Ragaini | Football Freshman: Spencer Petras | Football Freshman: Tyrone Tracy, Jr.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — They fell like blue-chip dominos, one swaying the next until they all landed in Iowa City, Iowa.
First was wide receiver/running back Tyrone Tracy, Jr. Then came cornerback D.J. Johnson. He was followed by cornerback Julius Brents.
In all, more than 40 percent of an extraordinary 7-on-7 football team from the Indianapolis area became University of Iowa student-athletes. Tracy, from Decatur Central, Brents, from Warren Central, and Johnson, from North Central, were all highly sought after recruits.
They are all Hawkeyes.
“We had a good connection and decided we wanted to play college together,” Johnson said. “It’s good to have somebody from the same city going through the same things and having a friend just to talk to. We’re all on the same level and have a good connection with each other.”
The 6-foot, 170-pound Johnson was a four-year letterman at North Central and team captain as a junior and senior. He earned first-team all-conference and all-county honors as a junior and senior and was named most valuable defensive back for the Panthers in 2017.
He was limited early in Iowa’s fall camp with hamstring issues, but for the past month he has been going full speed.
“You have a lot of things you want to do when you first get here,” Johnson said. “Being injured, it challenged me mentally, but overall it was a blessing in disguise. It helped me a lot mentally and made me a better player. When I was out, I was able to watch everything I needed to do, so it helped me in the long run.”
Johnson credits some of his growth as a player to junior strong safety Amani Hooker, junior cornerback Michael Ojemudia, and sophomore cornerback Matt Hankins.
“They help me out a lot, just watching those guys and how they move around and watch film, get in the play book,” Johnson said. “Hook (Amani Hooker) helps me out a lot. I’m playing behind him right now and just watching him and the way he plays and hustles to the ball is helping me focus on what I need to do and understand what it takes to play here.”
Ferentz recalls the recruiting process and how much the Hawkeyes liked Johnson as a student-athlete.
“We think he has a lot of upside,” Ferentz said. “He has a good attitude and ability. He’s just a little behind compared to some of the other guys because of the time he missed.”
It is a shorter-than-usual game week for the Hawkeyes, who host Nebraska on Friday in the Hy-Vee Heroes Game. Johnson has already seen action on Iowa’s punt unit at Penn State and several snaps Nov. 17 at Illinois.
“It was everything I dreamed of, it was a good feeling to get out there and see what it’s like,” Johnson said. “It’s fast-paced and when I first got out there, I didn’t expect it to be so fast. It is a totally different speed than coming from high school.”
Iowa is 7-4 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten, meaning the Hawkeyes will play in a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season. The month between the Nebraska game and the bowl will be invaluable for young players like Johnson.
“The biggest thing I have learned is probably to have a tough mentality,” Johnson said. “Tough, smart, and physical is what we preach and I think they have instilled that in me. I still have a lot of things I need to work on mentally, but as far as hustling and attitude, I’m getting there and I have made progress from where I started.”