As Nebraska closes the chapter on the 2020 recruiting class, attention will start to turn to 2021 recruiting. With it, plenty will be said about Bellevue West wide receiver Keagan Johnson.
Johnson received an offer from the Huskers in early December, with the Iowa Hawkeyes following suit shortly after. That makes for three Power 5 conference offers for the junior so far—Iowa State is the other—as well as offers from North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Northern Illinois.
The attention doesn’t surprise Bellevue West football coach Michael Huffman. What does surprise Huffman is that the attention didn’t fully transpire for Johnson’s older brothers, both Bellevue West alumni. CJ Johnson played for Wyoming, while Cade Johnson just finished his junior season at South Dakota State.
“Well, first of all, [Power 5 conference] coaches missed on his brothers,” Huffman said. “That's seriously the first thing and they all come in and say that. What CJ was able to do at Wyoming? Heck, Cade’s the FCS All-American twice, right? They realized they missed.”
Huffman said all three Johnson boys were late bloomers. Keagan, however, was able to learn from his brothers. He also paid attention to his dad Clester Johnson, another Bellevue West standout (who went on to play for Nebraska). While Clester was “a weight room animal,” according to Huffman, CJ and Cade played it a little safer in high school. That changed significantly once they got to college, something Keagan watched them adapt to firsthand.
As a result, Keagan learned to love lifting weights earlier in his football playing career.
“In fact, we still lift in season but it's not as heavy, it's not as much. He hates it,” Huffman said. “He wants us to go back to our offseason workout.”
Keagan is now 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds according to his Hudl profile and he passes “the eyeball test” for Huffman. And with that size, Keagan has grown into a very physical athlete. His primary position is wide receiver—which is what Nebraska is recruiting him for—and he finished his junior season with 672 yards and eight touchdowns on 52 receptions.
That doesn’t mean Keagan wouldn’t love to play a little more defense if allowed. But Huffman likes to focus his players. He also likes to give more players a chance to see the field during the season.
“I don't believe in playing guys two ways because now we're getting 22 kids to play as hard as they can every down,” Huffman said. “I'm not going to go and have to watch another kid play both ways.
“There's limited snaps for me. [Keagan] probably played 20, 25 downs of defense [this season]. I just think it's better for kids. The recipe has obviously been pretty good. Not to be arrogant but the last five years have been a pretty sweet stretch, and that's when we started doing it. It makes it easy for the kids to go to the weight room. Why am I lifting weights if I'm not going to play anyways? Well, we're playing 22 plus special teams people.”
So Keagan is learning to share his time on the field and that’s OK. Huffman knows the junior will play whenever and wherever, while also continuing to put the work in from the weight room. That’s already paying off with the attention from Power Five conference coaches.
Those coaches may have missed on CJ and Cade, but Keagan’s making sure they can’t miss him this go-round.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.