After serving as the program’s defensive coordinator last season, former Ohio State linebacker Thomas “Pepper” Johnson announced on Wednesday that he has been promoted to head coach at Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy.
He replaces Bobby Acosta, who led the Ascenders to the national championship last fall but recently accepted the same job at Del Valle, Texas, the former home of 2022 five-star wide receiver commit Caleb Burton and current home of 2023 four-star wide receiver target Braylon James.
The 56-year-old Johnson played four seasons for the Buckeyes from 1982-85, recording 379 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and five sacks. He was a two-time team captain and earned All-American honors as a senior.
Johnson was selected by the New York Giants with the 51st overall pick in the second round of the 1986 NFL Draft and won Super Bowl XXI and XXV with the franchise. He also played for the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and New York Jets before retiring in 1998.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Johnson finished his professional career with 983 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 14 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles across 13 seasons.
Johnson quickly transitioned into the coaching ranks as he was named the assistant linebackers coach with the New England Patriots in 2000. He served in various roles for the franchise over the next 14 seasons, including linebackers or defensive line coach, and added three more Super Bowls titles (XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX) to his resume.
Johnson also spent time as the defensive line coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2014 and Jets from 2015-16 before stints as the defensive coordinator for the Alliance of American Football’s Memphis Express football in 2019 and linebackers coach for the XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats in 2020.
Johnson now follows in the footsteps of former Florida State quarterback and 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, high school coaching legend Kevin Wright and Acosta at IMG Academy, which has gone 104-5 since the program started in 2013.
“He's a player's coach, real old school, but willing to do anything to make us better and to have a good time,” 2022 Ohio State four-star offensive tackle target Tyler Booker said of his new head coach. “He’s going to demand the most out of us.”
Additionally, Johnson is the father of former Ohio State fullback Dionte Johnson (2004-07). Together, they were just the third father-son duo to be named team captains during their time with the Buckeyes, joining Jim and Kirk Herbstreit and James and Jeff Davidson.
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