Southern Miss dominates UTEP in final regular-season game
For 13 months, Jaden Johnson seemed to be one of Louisville’s strongest verbal commits for the Class of 2019.
On Dec. 3, the Memphis quarterback decided it was time for a change.
Johnson dropped his commitment on the same day that Louisville announced that former Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield will take over the school’s football program. He replaces Bobby Petrino, who was fired on Nov. 11 after leading the team to a 2-8 mark.
Johnson chalked up his decision to “a lot of uncertainty” at Louisville.
“I was discussing it with my mom, just talking and praying about the whole situation,” he said. “She just told me to let God take control and see where it takes you.”
He announced his new verbal pledge on Dec. 7, but Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson got a preview of his decision the weekend prior on Johnson’s official visit to Hattiesburg.
“We were sitting down at dinner. We stepped outside and I told Coach Hop, ‘I’m going to decommit from Louisville. I’m coming home to Hattiesburg,’” Johnson said.
Hopson was elated to land one of the most coveted quarterbacks to commit to Southern Miss since he first took over the program in early 2016.
“He almost jumped out of his skin,” the Kirby High School quarterback said.
The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Johnson is rated the No. 20 pro-style quarterback in the nation by 247sports.com and has also been on the receiving end of offers from Georgia, Indiana and Memphis.
When Johnson became concerned about the direction of the Louisville program, he turned to Southern Miss largely thanks to a strong first impression made by Hopson.
“Coach Hopson was the first coach to come to my house,” he said. “He came into my environment and showed his love. That stood out to me. He made me think he really wants me as a player.”
Johnson, who plans to sign with USM on Dec. 19, is on track to graduate early and arrive on the Southern Miss campus for the spring semester.
Johnson also received a recent visit from USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who left the strong-armed senior with the message that he’ll have a chance to take the field early.
“He told me that I’m the right fit and that the position is wide open because of the past season,” Johnson said. “He has a quarterback who can pass and a quarterback who can run. I feel like I’m the type of guy who can do both in critical moments. He told me I can come in and compete with those two guys. It’s not going to be easy, but I have a real nice chance of competing with them.”
The opportunity to play early is one reason that Johnson chose the Golden Eagles.
“That’s been a goal, even when I was committed to Louisville,” he said. “I want to get on the field early and showcase my talent. I feel like I have the talent, mentally and physically, to play on the college level.”
Redshirt sophomore Jack Abraham played in nine games this season at quarterback for USM, completing a nation-leading 73.1 percent of passes for 2,347 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Freshman Tate Whatley, who saw time while Abraham missed two games with an injury, completed 56 percent of his passes for 451 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Johnson’s verbal pledge is part of what has been a strong few days for USM on the recruiting trail.
USM will return 10 of the 11 offensive players who started the regular season finale at UTEP and six starters from a defense that should again be one of the best groups in Conference USA next year.
With a chance to turn 2019 into a special season, the USM staff has looked to the junior college ranks to shore up areas of concern, including an offensive line that struggled for much of the 2018 campaign.
Iowa Western Community College tackle Tre Johnson and Glendale (Ariz.) Community College offensive tackle Tanner Hawthorne both committed to Southern Miss over the weekend. Johnson, who is listed at 6-foot-8, 320 pounds, began his career at the University of Miami and the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Hawthorne is a former Purdue Boilermaker.
USM added another junior college pledge on offense in Highland (Kansas) Community College tight end Naricuss Driver, who stands 6-foot-3 ½, 246 pounds. He caught 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown this season.
USM’s lone recent junior college defensive commitment comes from East Mississippi defensive end Eriq Kitchen, who picked USM over offers from Colorado State, Middle Tennessee and Troy. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound former South Panola standout had 72 tackles and 8 ½ sacks in 2018.