UK Football

Kentucky DB goes from staring down end of his career to staring contest with Seahawks

Lonnie Johnson knows where the money is

Lonnie Johnson, a junior college transfer and January enrollee on the Kentucky football team, wants to play cornerback but can also play safety.
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Lonnie Johnson, a junior college transfer and January enrollee on the Kentucky football team, wants to play cornerback but can also play safety.

Lonnie Johnson once was on the brink of getting kicked out Garden City Community College.

He sat out the entire 2016 season there to improve his grades, and continued to take them seriously enough to graduate this past December with a degree in community and leadership development from the University of Kentucky.

Johnson ended up at UK as a cornerback, but he once was committed to Ohio State to play wide receiver after a standout prep career in high school. Academics derailed that opportunity with the Buckeyes.

He almost gave up football during his time away from the team at Garden City.

“I was like, ‘I’m probably not gonna do this no more,’” Johnson told reporters in February 2017 after enrolling at UK. “Then seeing my mom work two jobs and her crying and everything, I’m like ‘Okay, it’s time for me to get it together.’ So I got it together and now I’m out.”

Now he’s staring down a chance of a lifetime. Some mock drafts have Johnson going at the end of the first round or in the second round of April’s NFL Draft.

The process leading up to that event, in at least one instance, actually involved a stare down: Johnson in a team meeting with the Seattle Seahawks at the NFL Combine on Sunday was asked to lock eyes with a scout. He took that test seriously.

“They asked me how many times I wanted to do it over and I just kept doing it until I got a better number man,” Johnson said.

He topped out at 15 seconds. Johnson couldn’t remember the scout’s name — “I’ve met with so many teams, so many people.”

“I remember his face,” Johnson he added with a laugh. “I stared at him long enough.”

He gave ample credit to UK and Coach Mark Stoops — a defensive backs specialist — for developing his skills as a defender who has only played in the backfield for two and a half years.

“I advise anybody that wants to get prepared for the next level to go to UK,” Johnson said. “You see we got eight people here (at the combine), and a lot of us are gonna be top picks and a lot of us came here and did what we needed to do. … UK prepares you the right way.”

NFL teams are most interested in what Johnson will run in the 40-yard dash on Monday. UK cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Darius West also are expected to run the 40; Mike Edwards will sit out due to a broken thumb.

Johnson was coy about his target mark.

“I’ll let y’all see tomorrow,” Johnson said. “I got something special for everybody.”

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Josh Moore is a digital sports reporter who specializes in preps coverage. He’s in his fourth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore graduated with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English from the University of Kentucky in 2013.