A little over a year ago there weren’t many college football coaches interested in Steffan Johnson.
In fact, Johnson was struggling just to maintain his GPA to remain eligible for high school football. He was also getting into trouble as a freshman and sophomore at North Port High School.
In the time since, he’s transferred to Venice High, raised his grades, learned how to play cornerback and set records as a quarterback — turning him into a highly sought-after Division-I prospect.
On Friday afternoon the three-star athlete chose Rutgers out of 10 offers, committing to play for the Scarlet Knights in a Twitter post.
“They’ve talked to my mom a lot and they care about my education,” Johnson said of the Rutgers coaching staff. “Without them I don’t even think I would be eligible, because I didn’t understand my NCAA eligibility at first.
“I thought I was doing good, but I needed to be doing better. So I had to take some online classes to get my GPA up. They helped me realize that. Now, I’m on track to be eligible.”
It only took a few games at Venice for Johnson to become a game-changer last season, but the journey to get to that point had been a long time in the making.
Though he became the Bobcats’ starting quarterback as a sophomore, he didn’t have much success — throwing for 525 yards with no touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 3-7 team.
After Johnson struggled with academics, discipline and football at North Port, his mother, Kisha Davis, decided a change of scenery was in order.
“He wasn’t doing well at North Port,” Davis said. “He was getting into trouble, his grades weren’t good and they just kept dropping. I thought something different would be good for him.
“I think it was the friends he was hanging around with. He didn’t know anyone at Venice, so I think it was good for him to be surrounded by all those good people there.”
The decision paid off almost immediately as Johnson the starting spot at cornerback and then received his first offer — from Division-II West Virginia State.
Though he played well at cornerback for the first half of the season, an injury to starter Nico DallaCosta opened the door for Johnson to return at quarterback.
From his very first play — a 61-yard touchdown run against Lakewood Ranch — it was clear that Johnson was special. He went on to rush for 984 yards and 13 touchdowns while passing for 404 yards, 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
And even though he’s committed as a cornerback, it’s not out of the question that Johnson could play other positions at the next level.
“The exposure he had at the quarterback position closed the gap for him,” Venice quarterbacks coach Brian Ryals said. “Before he had an inability to show just how athletic he really is. We believe when he got film at quarterback, those colleges had questions answered about his athleticism, how fast he is and how tough he can be.
“There’s probably several other positions he could play. He could return kickoffs or punts and I’m sure he could play receiver with his ball skills and athletic ability.”
Johnson is expected to play both quarterback and cornerback for the Indians this fall, allowing him to further showcase his potential.
His best game last season came in a regional semifinals win over Palm Beach Lakes when he ran for 387 yards and five touchdowns, setting a school single-game rushing record. For the junior quarterback, the timing of the game meant that much more.
“My favorite moment was probably when I broke the record,” he said, “It was the day after my brother went to jail. So I dedicated that game to him. He made the wrong decision, but he should be getting out soon.”
Johnson’s older brother, Javorius Davis-Mobley, was arrested for fleeing from police and driving on a suspended license. He remains in jail. Javorius also played football for the North Port Mustangs growing up, however, a collarbone injury stopped him from pursuing the sport in high school.
“He was also awesome,” Davis said of her older son. “He played quarterback, running back and corner back. Steffan looked up to him. But my other son just chose the wrong path.”
Football is helping Johnson to avoid the same mistakes his brother made before him, and has allowed him to set himself up with an education unlike anyone else in his family.
“He was ready to commit on June 17th, which was my momma’s birthday,” Davis said. “But she passed away, so he decided to do it a little earlier. He said he wants to make it out for her because no one else has in the family.”