Kevin Johnson built a reputation as a shutdown cornerback at Wake Forest capable of shadowing fast wide receivers.
Now, the River Hill graduate is starting over again as he tries to establish himself as a rookie with the Houston Texans.
The first-round draft pick has been getting acclimated to the Texas heat and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's playbook since being selected 16th overall this spring. Johnson reports to training camp with the other Texans rookies in roughly a week and is hoping to make a quick transition to the NFL.
"I can't wait for training camp. I'm very excited about everything," Johnson told The Baltimore Sun. "Everything is going well so far during the practices we've had. I'm learning a lot and picking things up fast. I just want to contribute as much as I can and play as much as possible my first season."
Signed to a four-year, $10.049 million fully guaranteed rookie deal that includes a $5.568 million signing bonus and a fifth-year team option, Johnson isn't facing the pressure of becoming an immediate starter.
The Texans have two well-established cornerbacks, so Johnson can learn from veteran starters Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson while competing for playing time behind them. Every team needs at least three capable cornerbacks because of how pass-oriented the NFL game has become and Johnson is likely to play a lot.
"That's a great thing to be able to learn from those guys," Johnson said. "They're great guys, and I'm picking up a lot of knowledge talking to them. It's a great situation for me to be in to have them there to ask questions about everything. I'm picking things up fast and I'm having a lot of fun."
A four-year starter who never missed a game because of an injury, Johnson allowed only 24 completions last season and had 44 tackles. As a junior, Johnson had three interceptions and 15 passes defended. He finished his career with 190 tackles and seven interceptions.
The All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection is extremely athletic. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds at the NFL scouting combine with a 41.5-inch vertical leap, a 10-10 broad jump, a 3.89-second short shuttle and a 6.79-second three-cone drill.
"Kevin Johnson is a young player who’s got a really bright future," Texans coach Bill O'Brien told Houston reporters during the Texans' offseason practices. "He’s learning the pro game. He’s got some really good guys to learn from in his coaches - obviously John Butler, but also Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson.
"What Kevin does well is he’s a smart guy, he’s a hard worker, he’s a very good transitional player, so he’s able to at times see it and he’s able to transition very well. He’s got good quickness."
Johnson had a private meeting with Ravens officials and coaches at the team's training complex prior to the NFL draft. The workout bolstered the Ravens' high opinion of Johnson, but they weren't in a position to draft him and instead got speedy Central Florida wide receiver Breshad Perriman with the 26th overall pick.
Johnson also visited the Dallas Cowboys and had private workouts for the Cleveland Browns, who graded him as their top cornerback, as well as the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles. Johnson had a dinner meeting with Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, player personnel coordinator Dan Rooney Jr. and secondary coach Carnell Lake.
Now with the Texans, Johnson is happy with how things worked out.
"I'm loving everything about what's going on for me and I'm glad to be there," Johnson said. "It's a great opportunity, so I feel very good about it."
Johnson was extremely small when he entered high school. As a freshman at River Hill, Johnson was just 5 feet and weighed 96 pounds.
He was the quintessential late bloomer, going through a growth spurt as a high school senior. He was only 155 pounds when he graduated from River Hill five years ago, but is now 6-foot, 188 pounds.
"Kevin was really small and short at first, but he always had quickness and agility and hit that late growth spurt as a senior," River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said. "He did it all. He was our main big-play threat. He wasn't a very big kid, but he's put on a lot of muscle and strength and is a very coachable kid. He's not afraid to hit. Someone has to cover these big receivers in the NFL, and Kevin can do that."
Johnson has a history of success. He rushed for 1,220 yards and averaged nearly nine yards per carry as a high school senior as the replacement for future Ravens wide receiver and Wake Forest teammate Michael Campanaro as the Hawks' featured running back. He was also named an all-state cornerback. Johnson was part of a 40-game winning streak at River Hill that included two Class 2A state championships.
"I've come a long way and I've worked very hard to get to where I am," Johnson said. "I have that love for the game and that makes all the difference for me. I have personal goals for my rookie year, but I don't like to talk about them publicly. I just want to do as well as I can and do as much as I can this year."