Upper Marlboro Native Recruiting County Standouts
Former Roosevelt and UNC player is now an assistant football coach at Towson University.
During his football career at the University of North Carolina, Derrick Johnson played for three different position coaches and three defensive coordinators as a defensive back.
Some might see that as a negative.
"For me it was a good thing," said Johnson, an Upper Marlboro product now working with defensive backs as an assistant coach at Towson University. "I learned three different styles from three very good coaches."
Johnson attended Kettering Middle School in Upper Marlboro and Largo High School as a freshman. He then transferred to Eleanor Roosevelt High School as a sophomore and played three years for the Raiders while living in Upper Marlboro. His parents live near Watkins Regional Park.
As a recruiter, Johnson handles Prince George's County, Washington, D.C. and the east side of North Carolina, where he was a high school coach before landing an assistant job at McDaniel in Carroll County. He joined the Towson staff prior to the 2009 season.
"It is difficult in some cases to be a very good player and then be a very good coach," Towson head coach Rob Ambrose said Tuesday. "You have to be a good teacher. Derrick is all of that. He is extremely intelligent and personable."
Towson was 1-10 overall and 0-8 last year in the Colonial Athletic Association, which is considered the top Division I-AA football league in the country.
So how do the Tigers compete with CAA powers such as Delaware, Villanova, Richmond and James Madison, who have all made the national title game in the past 10 years? (DeAndre Smith of Wise High committed to play at JMU in February).
"The first thing is to continue to get some of the top guys, especially the PG guys," said Johnson, who lives in Laurel. "We have a lot of good guys from Prince George's right now. We have to get our name out there. We are still new in the conference. We have a national champion coming out (nearly) every year in the CAA."
Ambrose said Johnson is a strong recruiter. "He knows his area. That is the biggest thing," Ambrose said.
The pre-season roster for Towson includes Prince George's products such as junior defensive back Dwayne Price (Friendly High), junior wide receiver Alex Blake (Friendly), sophomore offensive tackle Randall Harris (DuVal) and senior offensive tackle Eric Pike (DuVal).
Towson will have to replace four-year starter Ollie Thomas (Potomac High), who is from Oxon Hill and was a cornerback for the Tigers.
As a coach, Johnson relies a lot on his experience as a player with the Tar Heels in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Since I played the position (of defensive back), for me it is a little more trial and error. When I played at UNC I had to go back and say, 'How did I get beat on that play?' I began to develop an approach on how the position would be played," Johnson said.
After college, Johnson had a tryout with the Washington Redskins, but it didn't work out, he said. Johnson played some semi-pro indoor football in North Carolina but realized it was time to make the move to coaching. He said the sooner a person makes the transition from playing to coaching the more success they can have.
Johnson played in 48 games, with eight starts, in four seasons at UNC. As a junior in 2002 he had 39 tackles and broke up six passes.
He had 27 tackles in 2003. For his career, Johnson made 81 tackles and broke up 11 passes. The only interception of his college career came against Maryland in 2000 in a 13-10 win by the Tar Heels.
He graduated from UNC with a degree in African-American history and then spent three years as a secondary coach at Riverside High in North Carolina. In his final season there, the school won its first state title and his defensive backs led the state with 27 interceptions.
Johnson's older brother, Darrell, played football at Largo High and at Delaware State. His younger brother, David, ran track and played football at Roosevelt before attending Virginia Tech.