Keyshawn Johnson Sr. isn’t a fan of recruiting rankings. The concept was relatively new when Johnson was being recruited from Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, California, but the Tacoma News Tribune considered him one of the top 100 players in the West. However, that was about it at the time as far as recruiting rankings were concerned. Twenty years later, things have changed.
As Johnson’s son – Keyshawn Johnson Jr. – went through the recruiting process, he noticed something he didn’t like. Many of those that spoke about Johnson Jr. used him as a reason for his success.
“I laughed at the notion that he only has scholarships because I’m his dad,” Johnson said. “That’s ridiculous but you’ve got to say that about a kid anyway. No matter what that’s what they’re going to say. I mean, they say that about Dylan McCaffrey (son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey). ‘He’s not that good of a quarterback.’ The reason why is because of his last name. It’s like, shut up.”
Johnson Jr. ended as a 4-star with a 90.3 composite ranking on Hail Varsity’s scale, but Johnson isn’t fazed much by his son’s ratings. Much like his nephew – New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas – Johnson knows what his family is capable of.
“I just laugh at the pundits that make those kind of comments or the ratings and rankings,” Johnson said. “‘Oh, he’s a 3-star.’ You’re just talking. Why is he a 3-star? Because he didn’t come to your workout so you rate him a 3-star or a 4-star? Just because he wouldn’t come run cones for you in shorts? No, we’re not doing that and we were never going to do that.
“He and I didn’t want him playing in any all-star games so he was ranked lower because of that and because he’s my son. I understand it. We all get it as a family. The same thing happened for my nephew. We got it. He was just ranked lower because he was my nephew. What do you say when he makes a billion dollars and he’s laughing all the way to the bank?”
Johnson is a big fan of the game of football. He understands and analyzes the game, making him comfortable speaking about the kids he sees.
“If you know football and you see a player play, you know they can play,” Johnson said. “You don’t need to get caught up in all of that stuff. Rankings are for fools. That’s Internet paper war. ‘We’ve got better players than you.’ OK, sure. That really says a lot.”
Helping Johnson Jr. understand that was a big goal for Johnson. It was something he wanted to be sure his son didn’t get caught up on as he was going through the recruiting process.
“Those are the sorts of things I try to get him to understand,” Johnson said. “As a kid, it doesn’t matter. Who cares what they have you ranked? You don’t need to care about that.”
Using former Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah as an example, Johnson made note of many players who were not expected to do much for their respective universities. In Abdullah’s case, ESPN had him as a 2-star prospect coming out of high school. He was then drafted by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
“Not bad, huh?” Johnson said.
Johnson also doesn’t believe rankings tell the full story about an athlete or what a team can accomplish. Noting former Nebraska quarterback Johnny Stanton, Johnson was clear that just because an athlete is ranked high out of high school doesn’t mean they’ll pan out. Instead, it’s how the coaches develop a player that makes a team a contender on the national stage.
“If you’re recruiting people based on rankings, it doesn’t mean anything,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t mean Nebraska can’t win a national title just because they don’t have a top-tier recruiting class. It doesn’t mean anything. It means absolutely nothing.”
Going forward, Johnson stresses patience to Nebraska fans. Instead of worrying about rankings and win-loss records, he wants fans to take a step back.
“Let the meals cook and wait for it to be prepared at the table,” Johnson said. “That’s all. That’s it. Just wait for the meal to be cooked and for it to be prepared at the table. Don’t be in such a hurry. You’re not winning a national title next year anyway, so just relax. Let them build the program. You’ve got to let them build the program. You can’t get so caught up in what everybody else is doing because everybody else is already ahead of you. You’re playing catch up because Bo Pelini had you behind. You’re playing catch up now. So just let the program build. Let it build.”
Johnson is also not a fan of suggesting Coach Mike Riley and his staff have a timetable to accomplish their goals. Part of letting the program build is also having realistic expectations.
“Enough with this, ‘He won six games the first year, it’s a disaster!’ and ‘I can’t believe they lost to Iowa and Ohio State!’” Johnson said. “You were going to lose to Ohio State. You were going to lose to Wisconsin. That was going to happen.”
Plus, Johnson saw what Riley and his staff did once at Nebraska to be a good thing. They used the talent they had to the best of their ability, despite it not perfectly fitting their scheme.
“For all the Tommy Armstrong touchdowns, scrambling around, that’s not football,” Johnson said. “You can’t win on a consistent basis with a quarterback like that. When [Riley’s staff] inherited the program, they didn’t even have any quarterbacks that fit their system. Tommy Armstrong was the most experienced and the best available quarterback that was on the roster and that’s what you’ve got. So you had to find creative ways to win with him.”
As for the future of Nebraska football, Johnson is confident in what Riley is trying to build. With Johnson Jr. officially enrolled at Nebraska, the rankings and ratings no longer matter. Now it’s time for Johnson Jr. to live his dream, which is what matters most to Johnson as a father.
“I’m excited to see (Keyshawn) be able to have a scholarship and play football,” Johnson said. “He’s doing what he likes to do.”
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.