“He was starving himself to play at 270 (pounds) to play D-end,” coach Bob Stoops said. “I asked (strength) Coach (Jerry) Schmidt how long it would take him to get to 300 pounds. He said, ‘About a week and a cheeseburger.'
“Sometimes with these big, long guys that are really athletic, you don't know when they're going to stop growing.”
The move made sense for lots of reasons, but for a guy who spent most of his life playing quarterback, the thought of becoming an offensive lineman — and all the stereotypes that come with it — didn't sit well.
Johnson said coaches left the decision up to him, and he continued to play defensive end for another few weeks before ultimately choosing to give the offensive line a try.
“When he moved to tackle initially, I thought, ‘That's an ingenious move,'” Eckert said. “But you're always wondering how the student-athlete's gonna take it.”
One thing Johnson said helped was having a friend like Gabe Ikard, the former Bishop McGuinness standout who was also transitioning from tight end to offensive lineman at around the same time.
“It was difficult going from a skill position to playing on the line,” said Ikard, now Oklahoma's starting center. “We had to change our bodies and we had to change our mental approach to the game. We realized we were not going to catch any passes and get our name in the paper.
“Once we accepted that our job was the most important on the field, we allowed ourselves to work toward becoming good offensive linemen. “
Johnson entered the starting lineup for Oklahoma's second game of 2011 — a top-five clash at Florida State — and started every game the rest of that season at right tackle. He shifted to left tackle before his senior year, and by the end of the season was showing up on first-round draft projections.
Then in late January, Johnson wowed NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. During the game, former Utah State cornerback Will Davis intercepted a pass and returned it 25 yards before Johnson caught him near the sideline and shoved him out of bounds.
Johnson affirmed his impressive speed with a 4.7 40-yard dash time at the February NFL Combine.
“It's always unique when you start talking about gaining ... you don't really think about maintaining the speed to go along with that,” Eckert said. “For him to be able to do that, I think it just speaks volumes about what kind of athlete he is.”
The latest mock drafts have Johnson going as high as No. 4 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles, and as low as No. 11 to the San Diego Chargers. Johnson was one of few draft prospects invited to the ceremony.
“I've actually never been to New York,” Johnson said. “Having the opportunity to take my family, as well as myself, it's a blessing. ... It's moving so fast now, so it's kinda hard to grasp it all. Sometimes when I have time to think about how my career's gone, it is just remarkable. Over these past months, it's all come into place.”