Tumwater grad Matt Johnson hopes to fulfill his NFL dream

NFL draft: Johnson’s EWU season ended prematurely, but next level is within reach

mwochnick@theolympian.comApril 27, 2012 

There are only two necessities Matt Johnson needs this weekend as he prepares for possibly one of the biggest moments of his life.

“A TV and good cellphone service,” he said.

The 2007 Tumwater High School graduate and four-year starting safety for Eastern Washington University’s football team will be at a Cheney hotel with his family and close friends, with his eyes glued to coverage of the NFL draft on television with his cellphone fully charged.

Johnson’s illustrious 45-game career at Eastern, which includes an NCAA Division I Football Championship Series title, All-America honors, and multiple individual stats that rank in the top five in program history has ended. Now, he hopes to step up to the next level of football – as a professional.

This weekend, the 22-year-old will learn if he’ll be drafted into the NFL – the league draft runs through Saturday at the Radio City Music Hall in New York – or if he will need to enter the league as a free agent.

The first round of the NFL draft was Thursday. Rounds two and three are today. And rounds four through seven are Saturday.

Johnson admitted his emotions are running high leading up to this weekend.

“It’s exciting. You don’t know where you’ll end up,” Johnson said. “It’s a neat experience and not many people get this experience.”

Over the past three weeks, Johnson has been busy with workouts and meetings with numerous NFL teams. He’s flown to Dallas, Chicago and most recently, Philadelphia, for workouts. He’s also worked out for Kansas City and New England, and had talks with Denver, Jacksonville and Oakland.

A big factor for Johnson is that he’s 100 percent healthy now. His collegiate career ended prematurely after he suffered an injury to his left biceps tendon while playing on special teams in Eastern’s Sept. 10 game against South Dakota. He tried to play through pain for the next five games, but finally had to give it up.

Zach Johnson, his twin brother, suffered a season-ending knee injury weeks earlier. The NCAA granted Zach a sixth year of eligibility, and he will play in the Eagles’ spring game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Roos Field.

Matt Johnson is the fifth-leading tackler in school history with 341. He ranks second all-time for interceptions (17) and interception return yards (219).

Since recovering from surgery to repair the damaged biceps tendon, Johnson has been working out nonstop. In January and February, he spent six weeks in Orlando, Fla., with two-dozen other college players working with Tom Shaw, a renowned speed and conditioning coach.

At EWU’s Pro Day, March 7 in Spokane, Johnson put up strong results. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds, did the 20-yard shuttle run in 3.99, bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times and had a 38-inch vertical leap.

“I put up numbers close to where I want to be,” Johnson said. “I feel so healthy.”

Though NFLDraftScout.com lists the 6-foot-1, 212-pounder as the 15th-best strong safety (out of 143), he is not projected to be among the 253 players taken in the seven-round draft. Undrafted players are free to sign with any team after the draft.

No Tumwater High School graduate has been drafted by an NFL team, but two have signed free-agent contracts. In 1997, quarterback Brad Otton signed a free agent deal with the Washington Redskins out of USC, but he never appeared in a regular-season game. Tight end Ivan Gustafson signed with the Buffalo Bills in ’99 after earning All-American honors at then-Whitworth College. Gustafson later played football in Europe after being one of the final cuts from the Bills’ training camp.

Johnson was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) at Tumwater. His senior year (2006-07), he helped guide the Thunderbirds to the 2A state football semifinals, the 2A District IV boys basketball tournament and the District IV baseball title.

Seeing his name flash on the television screen, and getting a phone call from one of the 32 NFL teams would fulfill a long-standing dream.

“It’s something every kid dreams about,” he said. “It’s going to be a special day for me and my family.”

mwochnick@theolympian.com 360-754-5473 www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports

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