The Upland (Calif.) safety, who committed to the Sun Devils on Saturday admitted that this relationship is probably the number one reason he chose ASU over his other suitors.
“When I first visited them in August I just got this gut feeling that this is where I wanted to go to school,” Johnson recalled. “It really started with my position coach Chris Ball and my area recruiter coach Joe Lorig. I feel very comfortable with them and I know I can talk about anything with them, it’s never awkward. They really wanted to get to know me as a person before they offered me. Those coaches left a bigger impression on me than any other school.
“The campus was amazing and it wasn’t even the school year. I knew this was the right place for me, but just wanted to make sure 100 percent before I made my decision.”
Conversing with former Upland player and current ASU cornerback, Osahon Irabor, has only aided the school’s cause in its recruiting efforts.
“I’ve talked to him before, and he said that Arizona State is a great school that has great academics,” Johnson said. “He told me that he loves it out there, and just the fact that he’s a local guy that is successful there is good to see because I know I can have a great career there too. He never pressured me to go there or anything like that. He was just giving me information.
“I’m going to visit Arizona State when they play UCLA (on October 27th) and Osahon will be my host.”
Both coaches Ball and Lorig certainly had a productive recruiting trip yesterday as they attended the Upland-Rancho Cucamonga game, a contest that also featured twin brothers and linebackers Alani and Viliami Latu (from Rancho Cucamonga) who pledged to ASU on Friday night.
“I already knew that I was going to commit this weekend because they (Lorig and Ball) were going to be there,” Johnson said. “I just didn’t know if I was going to commit on Friday or Saturday. I asked them (Latu twins) before the game what they were going to do and they said that they were going to commit to Arizona State and I said I was going to commit too.
“It’s going to be cool to play with guys that I've known since I was younger.”
Johnson told the Sun Devil coaches on Friday that he was going to probably commit that weekend, and on Saturday he made it official calling up Head Coach Todd Graham.
“He was fired up when I called him,” Johnson described. “It felt good to call him and make my decision final.”
As a junior the 6-2 205-pound James Johnson posted 62 tackles, four passes defended and two interceptions for 12-1 Highlanders.
“Coach Ball said I can play all three safety spots,” Johnson described, “The strong safety, free safety and a down safety which like a linebacker too. They said I can do it all and that I’m going to practice all three positions and see where I can play.
“I think I have good leadership and strong coverage ability. I feel that I’m strong in coverage too but that I can be better. I watched their defense on TV and I love how aggressive they are with guys like Will Sutton and Alden Darby. They really get after it and I know I can fit in that defense.”
Johnson indicated that Arizona and Oregon State, both who have offered him as well, were ASU’s main competition during the recruiting process.
“I also had offers from schools like Houston and San Jose State,” Johnson commented. “But I always knew I wanted to play in the Pac-12.”