This week, our College Football Q&A takes us to Newton High School and a dynamic quarterback Rams fans certain remember as Romario Johnson. Johnson was an electrifying offensive performer, particularly in his senior season when he led Newton to a 9-3 record and state playoff berth in 2015. He threw for 1,960 yards and 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions while completing 61 percent of his passes.
The dual threat QB tacked on 592 rushing yards and eight scores on the ground while averaging an eye-popping 7.9 yards per carry. Originally committed to Air Force, Johnson saw his plans shift drastically. Now after taking the scenic route, he’ll finally realize his dream of play Division I football when he suits up for Georgia State this fall.
In his first game with ASA Miami (JUCO) this past season, Johnson tallied a school-record 17 tackles.
Check out Johnson’s Q&A with sports editor Gabriel Stovall as he talks about his next steps as a football player and his aspirations beyond the gridiron.
Stovall: So let’s work backwards a bit. We know you’re headed to Georgia State in September. But you’ve had quite the journey getting there. Tell me about that.
Johnson: “Right after high school I was signing with the Air Force as a quarterback, but I wasn’t able to get in and didn’t find that out until late that my grades weren’t good enough to get into Air Force. My grades were good enough to get anywhere else except to the service academies, but by the time I found out, it was too late to go anywhere else. So I ended up first at Eastern Arizona where I played wide receiver and some quarterback, and then I transferred down to ASA Miami which was in my hometown. There, I had a lot of coaches coming in to see me like, FAU and FIU. I was playing a lot of safety at ASA, and then that’s when Georgia State came in as well."
Stovall: What made you choose Georgia State, and what were some other schools you were considering coming out of the JUCO ranks?
Johnson: “Well, like I said, FAU and FIU were coming down and talking to me a lot. And then I just started talking about coming back home to Georgia. Coach (Josh) Stepp and (Chris) Collins at Georgia State were talking to me and they really persuaded me. And honestly, they didn’t even really have to persuade me. I had been talking about coming back home with and (Newton assistant) coach (Josh) Skelton. And with coach Skelton being a DB coach, I knew he’d basically help me with everything I needed. And since I got my associates degree in business I didn’t have to go to school this semester, so things just started to work out.”
Stovall: How long did it take you to really get comfortable with playing safety?
Johnson: “It wasn’t long. My first game I broke the school record with 17 tackles against Georgia Military. It didn’t really take much to get adjusted. I wanted to play safety a lot in high school, but they had me at quarterback a lot. And the way I played quarterback, I was a little physical. But I decided to keep playing DB because I felt like it was the best way for me to be recruited. In high school a lot of people backed off of me at quarterback because of my height and size. But I’m way bigger now than I was in high school, like about 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds. As a player I’m also faster than what I was in high school, just the whole physical aspect of my game is better.”
Stovall: Being the stellar signal caller you were in high school, do you ever miss playing quarterback?
Johnson: “Yeah I do, like when I be at Newton now, I’m showing some of the current quarterbacks things to make them better. But honestly, playing quarterback has helped me on the defensive side of the ball. Especially playing quarterback on a high level helps me in certain situations as a safety because it helps me see and anticipate what offenses are going to do. But playing safety, it’s very exciting. And being able to do it while playing D-1 ball is something like a dream come true.”
Stovall: How difficult was that last-minute experience of not going to Air Force, and how did you get past the disappointment?
Johnson: “Really, actually talking to coach Skelton and coach Grant at Newton helped me. Coach Grant is like a second dad from home, and Skelton is like a big brother I didn’t have. They helped me push through. Going through that whole experience made me more humble than what I was.”
Stovall: What will you be majoring in at Georgia State?
Johnson: “Pharmacy. I want to open my own pharmacy one day. It’s probably just because I saw my cousin going through the whole medical school thing, so I said, ‘Hey, why not?’ It’s a way to help people. It’s always something I thought about doing.”
Stovall: For someone like me who only heard about your exploits in Newton’s offense but never saw you play, how would you describe the way you played quarterback in high school?
Johnson: “Fun. It was fun, and I just liked to go out there and have fun. Coach (Terrance) Banks brought in that offense where I was able to make my own decisions. I actually changed a lot of his plays sometimes, but nobody knew that at that time. But it was great.”
Stovall: What advice would you give to today’s young high school athlete who aspires to play Division I football?
Johnson: “One, you have to have the grades. Grades are the most important thing. For me, grades weren’t a problem, as I had a 3.7 GPA coming out. But you’ve got to have that. And then just staying humble with everything. Everyone doesn’t have to know your business. You don’t have to put everything out there. But when you get there, it’s going to be a great feeling. For me, I know that I’ve still got a lot of work to do."