By MATTHEW STEVENS
One of the most talented high school linebackers in the country has become one more in a line of Mississippi State decommitments.
C.J. Johnson, a five-star prospect out of Philadelphia, Miss., has announced his intentions to sign with Ole Miss next week on the National Signing Day of Feb. 2.
Johnson becomes the latest player in the 2011 recruiting class to initially verbally commit to the MSU program but now appears headed to Ole Miss likely joining South Panola wide receiver Nickolas Brassel and Madison Central running back Joe Price.
“I’m shutting it down and I’m fully convinced that I’m signing with Ole Miss,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to be called by anymore coaches and won’t take the calls if they do.”
Johnson took a visit to the Ole Miss campus last weekend and also told the Starkville Daily News in a phone interview Tuesday he’d received home visits from Rebels head coach Houston Nutt and defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix.
“I will say that I found out all the things I’d hear about Ole Miss and other schools in the process appeared to not be true,” Johnson said. “And my mom just loved Ole Miss and the town of Oxford. She had a lot of great things to say about the whole experience.”
Johnson made 150 tackles at the middle linebacker position in his senior season of high school leading him to be selected for the U.S. Army All-American Game, the second-best linebacker prospect in the country according to most scouting services and a first-team All-State selection.
These sort of decommitments in the last few months of the recruiting season leading up to signing day is part of the “crazy time” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen talked about when asked by the local media about the rash of prospects leaving the Bulldogs 2011 recruiting class.
“You hope that these guys – that they don't fall for a fast line at the last second,” Mullen said on Jan. 8. "They know what's going on and what the program will entail and the direction we're going to be going in. A lot times it's up in the air what will sway a 17-year-old to make a decision one way or another.”
According to Rivals.com, Ole Miss’ recruiting class is now ranked 17th in the country and sixth in the Southeastern Conference while MSU stands 37th in the nation and the 10th-best in the league.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker was previously recruited by two Mississippi State coaches that are no longer on the Bulldogs coaching staff after accepting positions at other schools. His first recruiting coach and the one Johnson gave his verbal commitment to after his junior year of high school was Mark Hudspeth. The former MSU receivers coach and passing game coordinator left Starkville to become on the head football coach at Lousiana-Lafayette last December. Johnson’s position coach and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz then left to take the same position at the University of Texas on Jan. 5 forcing the five-star prospect to reopen his recruiting options a day later.
“I felt like I kind of crippled myself in the process by (committing early) and here’s the thing – if I’d gone to Mississippi State because of Coach Diaz, I would’ve been going for the wrong reasons,” Johnson said. “I can promise you I’m going to hate calling (Mullen) because that will be an emotional phone call because that’s the kind of the person I am.”
Johnson said he was immediately recruited by newly promoted defensive coordinator Chris Wilson and newly hired linebackers Geoff Collins but suggested the relationship with that pair was simply too late in the process.
“We sat down and we talked some, but with Ole Miss, everybody was involved and I just felt like I had built a solid relationship with the people at Ole Miss,” Johnson said.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, will replace all three starting linebackers from the '10 season, including current Senior Bowl participants K.J. Wright and Chris White.
Mississippi State, who will be replacing all three starting linebackers from this past season, now are without a verbal commitment from a player in that position group.