Though Calvin Johnson is one of the quietest wide receivers in the country--he disdains trash talk on and off the field--there's nothing subtle about the way the Georgia Tech freshman plays. He attracted attention in his first ACC game, on Sept. 11, when he burned Clemson with eight catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-24 Yellow Jackets victory. Opposing defenses have been so physical with him of late that last week coach Chan Gailey sent a tape of plays he considers suspect to conference headquarters. For his part, Johnson isn't complaining. "Every week we see something different," he says of the coverage, "but I think I've adjusted pretty well."
With six receptions for 131 yards in Georgia Tech's 30-10 victory over Connecticut last Saturday, the 6'4", 225-pound Johnson broke the school record for receiving yards in a season by a freshman. He's Tech's leading pass catcher this fall, with 36 for 624 yards and six touchdowns, all team highs. What's more, his flair for making big plays has brought comparisons with 2003 Pittsburgh All-America Larry Fitzgerald, another receiver with an understated mien. Johnson scored the game-winning touchdown against Clemson by outjumping a cornerback in the end zone, and in the fourth quarter of the Jackets' 24-14 win over North Carolina State on Nov. 6, he made an eye-popping one-handed grab over the middle on a pass thrown well behind him. "He reached back with his big hand," said Wolfpack safety Marcus Hudson, "and pulled it in like Spider-Man."
Johnson hails from Tyrone, Ga., about 30 minutes southwest of Atlanta, and his size and statistics at Sandy Creek High--where he caught 80 passes for 1,479 yards and 18 touchdowns in his last two years--were enough for many analysts to rank him among the top three schoolboy wideouts in the country. Last February he chose the Yellow Jackets, who won an intense recruiting battle with Georgia.
After he arrived in Atlanta for summer workouts he quickly lived up to the hype about his athleticism, recording team highs in the standing long jump (11'3") and vertical leap (43 inches), and showing off his 4.4 speed. "He's so talented, but he also outworks a lot of our older kids," says Tech receivers coach Buddy Geis. "Whatever you tell him, he does it right and at full speed. He's improving all the time. You just shake your head."