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Gator Bowl: Georgia Tech receiver is tops
Yellow Jackets receiver is considered the best in college
Saturday, December 30, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Calvin Johnson was wearing size 16 slides on his feet, two Livestrong-style bands on each wrist, Under Armour top and shorts and a disaffected look on his face. The subject: skipping his senior season and opting next month for the NFL draft. Apparently, the subject is wearing on him.

Gator Bowl

Who: West Virginia (10-2) vs. Georgia Tech (9-4).

When: 1 p.m., Monday.

TV: KDKA.


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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Calvin Johnson was wearing size 16 slides on his feet, two Livestrong-style bands on each wrist, Under Armour top and shorts and a disaffected look on his face. The subject: skipping his senior season and opting next month for the NFL draft. Apparently, the subject is wearing on him.

This Georgia Tech junior, who could become the third receiver selected with the first pick of the draft, wanted to elude the answer. He rubbed his right hand across his face, nearly covering it with a mitt that measures 101/2 inches from thumb to pinky. Johnson doesn't relish opening up to the media. He definitely prefers to keep his personal armor over this issue.

"I haven't thought about it," he said this week after a Georgia Tech (9-4) practice for its Monday Gator Bowl against West Virginia (10-2), whose defense probably wouldn't mind if he decided to leave as early as, say, tomorrow. "Still have a game left. I'll play this game next Monday, then give some thought to it."

It's a no-brainer, even for a fellow like this management major who spent last summer designing a cheaply constructed solar latrine for use by the disadvantaged in Africa. He stands 6 feet 5. He weighs 235 pounds. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. He owns a vertical leap better than 45 inches, but that was as high as Georgia Tech could measure. He catches balls one-handed and so far behind him, coach Chan Gailey once started calling the next play with an errant pass mid-flight until Johnson somehow snagged it.

"I think one word can sum him up: awesome," said Taylor Bennett, the quarterback who, in place of four-year starter Reggie Ball, will be throwing to Johnson Monday. "He's a freak of nature, and I don't think he even knows how good he is. Of course, I want him to stay. Who doesn't?"

"I haven't seen anybody like him, 6-5, go up for the ball like that," marveled Mountaineers safety Eric Wicks, part of a riddled West Virginia secondary that will chase him around the Alltel Stadium turf. "His size, his speed, the way he goes up for the ball -- that's all you need in a receiver. Oh, man, he's a great receiver. I think he's the best receiver in the country."

Johnson is the Biletnikoff Award winner, settling that score. He finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy voting. He was first-team All-America and the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. Sixty-seven catches for 1,016 yards and 13 touchdowns will do that for you.

How good is he? He collected 117 of Georgia Tech's 129 yards passing in the rainy slop of an ACC championship-game loss four weeks ago against Wake Forest. He once caught touchdown passes on back-to-back throws. Click on his button at RamblinWreck.com, and witness for yourself why his Yellow Jackets receivers coach, former NFL assistant Buddy Geis, considers Johnson better than the Pro Bowl lot he coached previously.

"He's going to be in the pros one day, and everybody's going to call him the greatest receiver in the game," said sophomore receiver James Johnson.

That day may come soon, with a simple form and announcement in January. For the time being, he's golden with the Yellow Jackets, a homegrown from Sandy Creek High in Tyrone, Ga., a quiet, quintessential leader.

"Just a humble, all-around kid," Bennett, a sophomore, calls him.

Calvin Johnson arrived in Atlanta almost an immediate star, catching two touchdown passes in the final two minutes of his second game to beat Auburn, collecting 48 receptions for 837 yards as a freshman and 54 more for 888 as a sophomore. This season, he was triple-teamed and still made catches.

Is he as great as Nebraska's Irving Fryar (1984) and Southern California's Keyshawn Johnson (1996), the other first-pick wideouts? As great as the guys he watches with roommates James Johnson and Bennett on Sundays?

"He likes a little T.O., a little Randy Moss, but they're very much opposite people," James Johnson said.

"That's why he'll be successful at the next level," offered Gailey, a longtime NFL assistant with the Steelers, Broncos and Dolphins and once Dallas' head coach, "because he has character. He wants to be the best he can be."

Bennett points out to him on Sundays that Calvin Johnson is already as good as those NFLers. So, Bennett begs of him, "Another year [in college] isn't going to hurt." His receiver, of course, catches his drift.

First published on December 30, 2006 at 12:00 am
Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.
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