Micah Johnson arrived on the University of Kentucky campus as an All-American. Now Johnson is planning on leaving UK as one.
The linebacker announced on Friday that he would return to UK for his senior season after requesting an evaluation of his draft position from the NFL Advisory Board. Johnson said feedback he received suggested he could go anywhere from the third round to the fifth round, but the opportunity to help Kentucky reach the next level in the Southeastern Conference and to improve his pro prospects ultimately won out.
"I told Coach (Rich) Brooks when I committed here that I wanted to be a part of something special, and I wanted to be a part of making history," Johnson said. "I came here because I trusted Coach Brooks' vision of making that possible, and I knew he'd work just as hard as I would to make that possible. I feel like, next year, we have a chance to do something special, and hopefully I can be a catalyst for it."
Johnson, a four-star recruit out of Fort Campbell High School, rivals Tim Couch and Dennis Johnson as the most touted prospects to sign with UK in the past two decades. He played in all 13 games as a true freshman but struggled at times getting acclimated to big-time college football. But in 2008, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Johnson was a first-team All-SEC selection by the league's coaches and had 93 tackles, with a team-high 13 for loss, despite fighting through a high-ankle sprain that cost him two games and nagged him most of the season.
"He played on a leg and a half most of the year," Brooks said. "A healthy Micah Johnson, the sky's the limit."
Johnson's return will help UK offset the loss of six senior starters on defense: tackle Myron Pryor, defensive end Ventrell Jenkins, linebackers Braxton Kelley and Johnny Williams, cornerback David Jones and free safety Marcus McClinton.
Brooks called Johnson's return "a significant thing."
"He came in as the bell cow; he wanted to make things different for Kentucky," Brooks said. "He was the most high-profile recruit that we've had in a long time. And let's face it, he's played in three straight bowl wins, and that is historic at Kentucky. Part of what he wanted when he came here, he's accomplished. Now we would like to make a bigger step next year, and he'd like to be a part of that process."
The Cats are still awaiting word on two other juniors who are considering entering the draft, cornerback Trevard Lindley and defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft and have a three-day window to withdraw their names after declaring.
Johnson said he relied heavily on Brooks, who has NFL experience as a head coach and defensive coordinator, during the process. Johnson said he and Brooks watched the entire Tennessee game together and talked about things Johnson needed to work on, such as recognizing different looks that offenses throw at him.
"Coach Brooks' evaluation is more tough than the NFL evaluation," Johnson said. "If I can impress him, then I know I'm moving in the right direction."
Brooks said Johnson can greatly improve his stock with a solid senior campaign.
"If he makes as much improvement between this year and next year as he did between his sophomore and junior years, then he clearly can move up into that first round," he said.
Johnson's return will also give him a chance to end his college career with his older brother, Christian, who redshirted in 2008 but will be a senior next fall.
"That played into it a lot," Johnson said. "All my life we've been playing together. One of the reasons I chose to come here was because he was here. It will be great to be going out together. We'll be pushing each other to do the right things on and off the field."