Max Johnson had to get loose before one of the drills at Mark Richt’s football camp Friday. So he picked up a football and started throwing … to a former 15-year NFL quarterback who won a Super Bowl and also happens to be his dad.
But Max Johnson’s football lineage doesn’t stop with his dad, Brad, who played at Florida State from 1987-91. Richt, the man running the camp and tasked with restoring the glory years at Miami after being named coach in December, is his uncle. Richt was a Hurricanes quarterback in the early 1980s.
And the talent appears to have rubbed off. Max, 15, a rising high school freshman, already has received offers from the two schools his family is most familiar with, Florida State and Miami.
“It blows my mind,” Brad, 47, said about kids receiving offers before they are shaving. “Some kids are more developed at an early age, whether height or speed or maturity. Some are yet to be determined.”
Brad Johnson was a two-sport star growing up in North Carolina and had his choice between playing football and basketball. He weighed offers in both sports from schools including North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Florida State, but in the end chose FSU and the sport he believed he was best prepared to play as a professional.
And when Brad arrived at FSU, Richt was Bobby Bowden’s quarterbacks coach.
Brad made that decision in late January his senior year in high school and faxed in his signature on signing day. There were no television cameras, no juggling of hats, no offers sitting on the table for four years. In fact, the only other player Johnson knew would be in his signing class was quarterback Casey Weldon.
Nowadays, he watches as kids become reality television stars on signing day. He says it’s “unfortunate it becomes a self-promotional deal.” And he believes that can start years earlier when as eighth-graders they are showered with so much attention.
“I think it definitely can hurt a kid,” he said. “He can feel the pressure. We try to keep it fun. We still throw balls in the backyard and we throw at trees and then we’re also trying to get a driver’s license.
“(Max) hasn’t even played a high school game yet.”
Brad coaches middle school football and basketball in their hometown of Athens, Ga. Max, 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, will be freshman at Oconee County High School in Bogart, Ga. Max participated in the first day of Richt’s camp Friday, which was for rising freshmen and sophomores.
For Max, being on the radar of some of the best programs in the country is not overwhelming.
“It is kind of the norm for kids in my grade now,” he said. “A lot of coaches are recognizing potential and what kids can be like when they get older.”
And Brad understands the process is much different than it was 30 years ago. Max attended one camp last summer and is in the midst of a five-school camp tour, including Florida State and Florida. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher gave Max an offer last month.
“Max is comfortable, he likes to compete, so we’ve done these showcase deals,” Brad said. “You want to get on the radar so one day when it does come time there’s hopefully a relationship there.”
Even if that relationship is between an uncle and his nephew. Still, the Johnsons understand Max will have to earn his way if, in four years, he’s preparing for his freshman season at Miami.
“When we’re around each other it’s Uncle Mark,” Brad said Friday. “When we’re out here it’s coach Richt. And there’s a big distinction. We don’t infringe on that and he doesn’t infringe on that.
“Even today parking, we’re way out there. There’s no ‘you get to park up front.’ ”
That is because Brad understands college football is a business. And that is something has not changed even in the 29 years since he stepped on the Florida State campus.
Johnson and Weldon went head to head for four years at Florida State. In the end, it was Richt who chose Weldon over Johnson. Weldon was the runner-up in the 1991 Heisman voting but Johnson had a much more successful NFL run.
Weldon’s son Cade, a class of 2017 quarterback prospect from Tampa, has committed to Miami.
“They told me Casey was a scrawny kid from a 1-A school that probably wouldn’t be any good,” Brad said. “And they told Casey I was a basketball kid and I would probably play basketball.”