PEBBLE BEACH — There were times during the recruiting process when Evan Johnson felt frustrated — even times when he doubted himself.
It’s not that the Stevenson School multi-sport star wasn’t attracting the attention of college scouts for his soccer skills. On the contrary, finding the right fit created stress and nervous tension.
“Not getting the right offer made it nerve-wracking,” Johnson said. “Should I try different things to get where I want to be? A lot of stress was lifted off my shoulders.
As talented as Johnson was as a receiver with his speed after the catch, the drive to become a defensive back earned him a full scholarship to Brigham Young University.
“I grew up playing both positions,” Johnson said. “I can adapt. It wasn’t a big deal for me. If anything, it provides more motivation. I don’t have the skills others may have right now. I’m going to get to work and get better.
Having been deprived of a football season due to the pandemic, Johnson’s speed on the track caught the eye of college scouts last spring, along with his defensive prowess in basketball.
“It came up a number of times during the recruiting process about playing multiple sports,” Johnson said. “They liked my speed and the way I played defense on the basketball court.”
The 18-year-old’s footballing talents haven’t gone unnoticed either, having caught 25 touchdown passes in his last 14 games, racking up more than 1,300 yards on just 71 receptions.
His decision to sign with BYU also caught the eye of one of the school’s most famous alumni, former 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, who sent a video to Johnson on Wednesday.
“I basically told him he picked a good spot,” said Young, who is competing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this weekend. “There’s a sense of the cutting edge at BYU with their athletic department. You will get the most out of yourself.
A lean 175 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame, Johnson was the Central Coast section champion last spring in the 100 and 200-meter sprints, breaking the school’s 100-meter mark five times. Stevenson, with a time of 10.84.
That 40-yard burst put Johnson on the radar last summer. Boasting good hands and the ability to outrun many opponents, scouts have turned their attention to developing him into a next-level defensive back.
“I thought of myself as a receiver before this process started,” Johnson said. “But my father told me that you have to be able to adapt. You cannot take an opportunity like this for granted.
Johnson’s father, Ron, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Monterey County, was a Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver for five years, as well as three years in the Canadian Football League.
“I told him Evan these guys saw something in you as a defensive back,” Ron Johnson said. “Go take this opportunity. They will see your ball skills.
His father doesn’t believe his days as a catcher are over. In fact, he encouraged his son to offer to return kickoffs and punts to enter the field for the Cougars, who were ranked 19th in the nation last year.
“All he needs is one step and he’s gone,” Johnson’s father said. “He wants to be a difference maker. He doesn’t want to be invisible. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a receiver again at some point.
While weighing offers from Fresno State and San Diego State, BYU had arrived late to the party, when former Palma star and Cougar linebacker coach Kevin Clune contacted Johnson.
“It came out of nowhere,” Johnson said. “I was talking to these other schools. Next thing I know Coach Clune called and said he heard about me from Coach (Steve) Zenk in Salinas (High).
Zenk, who played with Clune at Palma, coached Johnson in the recent Central Coast All-Star football match.
Clune came to Stevenson to meet with Johnson, which included a home visit to speak with his parents about BYU’s vision.
“We talked about how BYU is a different environment in its beliefs,” Johnson said. “I told him that I am here to play football. I can handle these circumstances. When I’m not playing football, I play video games.
A visit to the Provo, Utah campus sealed any concerns Johnson might have had about going to college outside of California.
“The environment is so different,” Johnson said. “There is a real sincere love for the players. It’s more than a matter of football. They want to see you succeed. We took snowmobile rides in the mountains. I felt welcomed with open arms. It was wonderful.
While football will become his priority, the door has been left open for Johnson to run for BYU once he establishes himself as a football player, as he is only scratching the surface of his potential in as a sprinter.
The first person Johnson told about his decision was his older brother Wesley, who is on Herm Edwards’ coaching staff at Arizona State.
“When we talk, it’s more brother-to-brother, not recruiting,” said Johnson, who was offered a spot as a draft walk-on at Arizona State. “He’s excited for me. BYU beat ASU last year.