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The last thing the Sandy Creek Patriots see when they leave the locker room is a sign that says football doesn't build character. it reveals it. By that logic Johnson in high school showed himself to be a selfless team player who made the most of his opportunities. While he popped up on the radar of every recruiting analyst in the country, his star would have shone brighter in a different system. Then as now, the Patriots were a run-first team with a proud tradition of sending tailbacks to Division I schools. On the night Geis scouted Sandy Creek during Johnson's junior season, the future All-America caught all of three passes. "The first one," Geis recalls, "he ran a drag route across the middle, made the catch, hurdled the cornerback and went 60 yards for the score."
No matter how many touches he got, recalls Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey, "he jumped out at you. He was the biggest, fastest player on the field."
Johnson was a contributor the minute he stepped on the Georgia Tech campus, a legend by the end of his second game. With the Yellow Jackets trailing Clemson by 10 late in the fourth quarter, he scored on successive jump balls from quarterback Reggie Ball: an eight-yarder with 1:50 to play, followed by the game-winner, an 11-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left.
Johnson finished the season with 48 catches for 837 yards and eight touchdowns. But the game he carried into the off-season was Tech's 24--3 loss to Miami. He was erased in that game by Antrel Rolle, the future first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals. "He was big, very physical and very fast," Johnson recalls. "I hadn't faced anyone like him. The message was, I needed to get much stronger, and much better at dealing with press coverage."
He has. In addition to making his upper body stronger, the better to simply run through corners, he has learned to set defenders up, juking with a hard step in one direction--"a guy that fast, they have to honor that step," says Geis--then going hard in the other direction. Another way to defeat jams? "He's learned to 'swim' up over their heads with his arm, and boom!--he's by them," says Geis. "And it's over. With this guy, there's no catch-up."
Defensive coordinators have drawn up more and more exotic schemes to neutralize the scourge of ACC secondaries. The most extreme example? Duke triple-teamed Johnson last year, which merely created opportunities for Tech's other playmakers. Gailey has responded by requiring Johnson to learn the three receiver positions and moving him all over the field.
In response to the burning question--will he be back next season?-- Johnson smiles and says, "I've always said I'm here to get my degree." (He's majoring in management.) Left unsaid: He can get his degree after he turns pro.
Johnson will be a star at the next level not just because, unlike in college, cornerbacks in the NFL can't bump a receiver more than five yards downfield and not just because the guy throwing him the ball should be more accurate than Ball, whose career completion percentage is around 50%. No, Johnson will succeed on Sundays because, says Gailey, he's hungry: "There are a lot of great athletes who stop improving because they think they've arrived. Calvin knows he hasn't."
Then there is that other trusty indicator: The more nicknames a guy has, the better he must be. Johnson is Spiderman, a.k.a. Consensus (as in consensus All-America) and a.k.a. Neo, the gravity-defying star of the Matrix movies.
That last handle is probably the most appropriate. Because if you're looking for the best receiver in the land, this guy is The One.