Ferris to Falcons: The Devon Johnson Story
BIG RAPIDS – Ferris State senior offensive lineman Devon Johnson played a key role in the program’s run to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II national championship game last December.
The 6-foot-7, 310-pounder from Aurora, Ill., racked up the awards over his four-year career, including 2018 consensus All-America and Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year honors. Johnson, who competed in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., was also a three-time All-GLIAC honoree and earned All-American accolades from the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, D2Football.com and the Division II Conference Commissioners Association.
Not bad for a player who started only one game during his varsity prep career at Waubonsie Valley High School.
“I only started one game my senior year,” Johnson said. “I was in the rotation. … Once the season actually started, I just kind of fell off the radar. It was fine, honestly. It was humbling. It made me work harder for what I wanted and it made me fall in love with football even more.
“Starting one game in high school to starting 51 straight, you know, I never really hung it over my head. I just kind of pushed forward and knew that I just never wanted to be back in that position.”
Johnson made what is believed to be a program-record 51 consecutive starts at Ferris State before missing the team’s 21-19 win over Harding in a 2018 NCAA Division II Super Region 3 Quarterfinal. The 51 consecutive starts is also the most at the NCAA Division II level over the last decade.
Johnson’s play and résumé didn’t go unnoticed by NFL scouts, as he became only the second Ferris State player ever and first since 1990 to earn an invitation to the NFL Combine.
It was at a summer camp where college teams noticed Johnson.
“Dudes that we get at Ferris State are dudes that have chips on their shoulder for whatever reason,” Ferris State offensive line coach Samuel Parker said. “They’re overlooked. …. Devon started one game in high school and then came here. Dude’s that are overlooked or undervalued, they come here and they grind.
“You take his numbers, and he’s one of the most impressive dudes at the NFL Combine. He won the award for best looking offensive lineman…. I don’t know how many guys that are 6-foot-7 and over 300 pounds that can do the splits, but he is certainly one of them. As an offensive line coach, you look for flexibility with large people.”
Johnson was projected to be selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, but didn’t hear his name called.
The call he did receive though from the Atlanta Falcons on the final day of the draft has him packing his bags for the Peach State and the NFL.
“They called me like mid-round of the seventh. They didn’t have any more picks,” said Johnson, who agreed to a preferred free agent deal. “They told me not to commit to nobody. They wanted me really bad. Going with them, I just felt like that was the best bet.
“It’s unbelievable, honestly. You know what I mean? The whole draft, I was worried. I just wanted my opportunity and then I got it. So, I’m just like extremely excited. Can’t wait to start work.”
Johnson is the ninth Ferris State alum to earn an NFL opportunity in the last year – the most of any Division II school in the country.
Johnson, who will join the Falcons for their rookie minicamp on Thursday, is expected to compete for the backup right tackle position. He’ll have the opportunity to play in all preseason games, beginning with Atlanta’s game against the Denver Broncos on Thursday, Aug. 1 in the Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Hall of Stadium in Canton, Ohio.