Tumwater grad gets draft call from Dallas

MATT JOHNSON: Eastern Washington safety thrilled after Cowboys pick him in fourth round, 135th overall

mwochnick@theolympian.comApril 29, 2012 

When Matt Johnson’s cellphone rang at a Cheney hotel Saturday morning with a Dallas-area telephone number popping up on the screen, his emotions overtook him.

It was Cowboys owner Jerry Jones calling Johnson, a 2007 Tumwater High School graduate, who told the safety that he was about to be selected by Dallas with a fourth-round pick in the NFL draft.

“He said, ‘We want you to be a Cowboy,’ ” said Johnson, 22. “It’s a lot of crazy emotions. I don’t know what to say. It’s a dream come true.”

Johnson, the 135th overall pick and the final selection in Saturday’s fourth round, also spoke on the phone with Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Johnson said he plans to fly to Dallas on Thursday for the team’s minicamp.

Johnson became the third South Sound player to be drafted by an NFL team since 2008, joining Timberline’s Jonathan Stewart (first-round pick by Carolina in 2008) and Shelton’s Caleb Schlauderaff (sixth-round pick by Green Bay last year). Johnson also is the first player from Tumwater to be drafted; two players – quarterback Brad Otton and tight end Ivan Gustafson – signed free-agent deals in the late 1990s.

As a late fourth-round pick, Johnson is expected to receive a four-year contract with a signing bonus of about $250,000.

Within an hour of his selection Saturday, Johnson said, he received about 80 text messages from friends.

“My phone has been going off the hook,” Johnson said.

Johnson was the fourth defensive player Dallas selected in the draft, following LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, Boise State defensive end Tyrone Crawford and Wake Forest linebacker Kyle Wilber.

Johnson was a three-sport athlete at Tumwater, playing football, basketball and baseball before graduating in 2007.

He was four-year starting safety at Eastern Washington, earning All-America honors in 2010 as a redshirt junior after helping the Eagles win the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national championship.

His senior season last fall ended prematurely because of a left biceps tendon injury, but he still finished second all-time at EWU in career interceptions (17) and fifth all-time in tackles (341). He has since had surgery to repair the tendon and said he is now fully healthy.

Although the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this week that a scout for one NFL team rated Johnson as the fifth-best safety in the draft, many draft analysts did not project him to be drafted. But proving people wrong is what the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Johnson said he has done all his life.

“When people doubt me, I love it,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest thing that motivates me. A lot of people don’t think I’ve would’ve been picked this high.”

Dallas was one of a handful of teams that Johnson visited in recent weeks. The Cowboys also are the team he grew up cheering for, and he said he had an Emmitt Smith jersey when he was young.

“It’s a dream come true to go to a team I love,” Johnson said. “It’s a big tradition you have to uphold. I’ll get up (today) and start training and get ready for Thursday and the weekend.”

RECENT SOUTH SOUND PLAYERS IN THE NFL

Since 1997, five players with South Sound ties have been drafted by NFL teams, and seven others have signed contracts as undrafted free agents:

DRAFTEES

NameHigh school (graduation year)CollegePositionTeam

Matt JohnsonTumwater (2007)E. WashingtonSafetyDallas (fourth round, 2012)

Caleb SchlauderaffShelton (2006)UtahOffensive lineGreen Bay (sixth round, 2011)

Jonathan StewartTimberline (2005)OregonRunning backCarolina (13th overall pick, 2008)

Calvin ArmstrongCentralia (2000)Washington StateOffensive linePhiladelphia (sixth round, 2005)

Jerramy StevensRiver Ridge (1998)WashingtonTight endSeattle (28th overall pick, 2002)

FREE AGENTS

NameHigh school (graduation year)CollegePositionTeam

Alex LinnenkohlCapital (2006)Oregon StateOffensive lineChicago (2011)

Skyler FultonCapital (2000)Arizona StateWide receiverIndianapolis (2004)

Ivan GustafsonTumwater (1995)WhitworthTight endBuffalo (1999)

Gary HolmesNorth Thurston (1994)Washington StateDefensive lineSeattle (1999)

Mike SellersNorth Thurston (1993)Walla Walla CCFullbackWashington (1998)

Brian BrennanNorth Thurston (1993)IdahoQuarterbackAtlanta (1998)

Brad OttonTumwater (1990)USCQuarterbackWashington (1997)

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

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