Alarming turnaround

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Patrick Johnson couldn't believe what he was hearing. Fresh off a stellar JV campaign as a freshman, Johnson appeared poised to star on the Blanche Ely (Pompano Beach, Fla.) varsity team as a sophomore. That is, until his parents sat him down one day during the summer of 2005 and told him he wouldn't be playing football that year.

His parents didn't like how he was performing in the classroom, so they decided he needed a wakeup call. And since Johnson hadn't missed a game since he was 7, making him sit out the year was the perfect alarm clock.

Johnson was so heartbroken that he didn't go to any of the team's games during the regular season. But once the playoffs came around, his father, Patrick Peterson, decided to drive the point home even further by making him go to Ely's final two postseason games.

"It hurt him bad," says Peterson, the JV head coach and varsity defensive backs coach at Ely. "Everyone kept asking him why he wasn't playing and he hated answering them. So I said, 'When someone asks you a question, you answer them,' and he had to tell them. He just had to know that this is what happens when you screw up."

While watching those playoff games, Johnson felt he could have made a difference for the Tigers, who were edged by St. Thomas Aquinas, 21-19, in the Class 5A regional finals. Believing he let his parents and teammates down, Johnson realized it was time for a change.

"That was a huge turning point because it made me more responsible and a better person," Johnson says.

Now a senior, Johnson has made good on his promise to become an "A" student. And on the gridiron, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound cornerback is rated the state's No. 1 recruit and the nation's No. 7 player in the Class of 2008 by RISE. He has committed to Miami but is keeping his options open.

After getting his grades in check, Johnson finally got his opportunity to shine on varsity last year. "I definitely wanted to make a big statement," says Johnson, who plans on graduating early and enrolling in college in January. "I just came out and acted hungry."

Opposing aerial attacks were first up on the menu. Johnson finished last season with 54 tackles and seven interceptions (he had three interception returns for touchdowns called back by penalties) to earn Class 5A All-State second team honors from the Florida Sports Writers Association. Johnson, who also plays wide receiver, quarterback and special teams for Ely, added three kickoff returns for scores, two rushing touchdowns and two touchdown catches.

Simply put, Johnson delivered the breakout year he'd been looking for. But make no mistake, he wasn't going to get caught up in the limelight -- not with his parents making sure their message had gotten through. So after the season was over, Johnson attacked the classroom with the same ferocity he uses while checking receivers.

And since he wears the same No. 7 his dad donned while playing for Ely from 1987-89, Johnson wanted to continue to make his parents proud on the field as well. That meant turning up the intensity even more during offseason workouts.

Johnson honed his skills this past summer by training with his cousin, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden, as well as Green Bay Packers star corner and former Ely standout Al Harris. As if that wasn't enough, Johnson traveled from football camp to football camp to see how he stacked up against the nation's best receivers. The results were the same as always. "I just did my thing and shut them down," says Johnson. "It wasn't too different."

Johnson's ability to completely take away his side of the field is predicated on a vast array of skills that resemble NFL All-Pro Champ Bailey. With 4.37 speed in the 40-yard dash and a 43-inch vertical, Johnson has the wheels and athleticism to stick with fast wideouts. But what truly sets him apart is the strength and technique to overpower receivers at the line and disrupt their routes.

That talent has people like Ely first-year head coach James Jones thinking Johnson will be joining Bailey on Sundays one day. Jones starred at Florida, was a first-round pick in the 1983 NFL Draft and played 10 years in the league, so he knows pro potential when he sees it.

"You only get these guys once every 10 to 15 years," says Jones, who played at Ely. "He's a very special individual who can play any position he wants. With that speed, he's very dangerous with the ball in his hands. He has very advanced technique for a high school kid. If you could jump to the NFL right now, he could be one of those guys.

"I've told these guys on the team that they should watch him because he's obviously doing something right," adds Jones. "No sense in reinventing the wheel when the wheel is running pretty good."

Johnson's high school teammates aren't the only ones trying to glean whatever knowledge they can from the star recruit. Johnson often speaks to area youth league teams, including the Pompano Chiefs, the squad his eighth-grade brother, Avery, plays for.

While the youngsters do learn what it takes to become a top recruit, Johnson spends most of his time telling the kids how to act off the gridiron.

"I'm very proud of him," his father says. "He tells them that you can be the best player in the world, but without an education, it's nothing."

Johnson learned that the hard way his sophomore year. Now he's making sure it doesn't happen again.