February 28, 2014 12:27:24 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Brian Johnson is in a "unique" situation to pay forward the opportunity he received from Dan Mullen nearly 11 years ago.
In a Baytown, Texas, home, Johnson agreed to be one of the first quarterback recruits for Mullen and Billy Gonzales at Utah in 2003. After a decade of making a name for himself as a player and as a coach with the Utes, Johnson took another call from Mullen. That call led to an opportunity Johnson accepted to be quarterbacks coach for the Mississippi State football team. He fills the vacancy left when Les Koenning became the new wide receivers coach at Texas on Jan. 15.
"I'm extremely grateful to those guys for giving me my opportunity in college football, and it's nice to have that come full circle and get a chance to work for coach Mullen, Gonzales, and (John) Hevesy and be a part of that staff," Johnson said in his first media session since being hired Feb. 10. "I can't say enough about those guys and what I've learned from those guys over the years. Having that relationship with them is something that was extremely inviting and enticing."
At 27 years old, Johnson understands he is in a position to be one of the most important influences on the 18-to 22-year-olds he will coach. It's a responsibility he already has started with junior quarterback Dak Prescott.
"The relationship with your position coach is one that lasts a lifetime," Johnson said. "When we go into a parent's home and recruit that kid, we essentially become a extension of their family. You can see that with coach Mullen and his recruiting me, and that had a lasting impact on my life. Eleven years later and that relationship is still there for us."
While he watched MSU play Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on television in Utah, Johnson felt like he already had a connection with Prescott. Johnson said Prescott's performance off the bench was "impressive" and was a key to the Bulldogs' 17-10 overtime victory against the Rebels.
"Watching it from the TV didn't do it justice in the actual moment," Johnson said. "He has the tools to be special."
Months after seeing MSU beat Ole Miss, Johnson is responsible for overseeing Prescott's development. It's a job that compelled him to leave his alma mater and take on a challenge in a new part of the country.
"It was a very difficult decision because Utah is the only place I've known, whether it was coaching and playing," Johnson said. "It was a great community, great staff, and the hardest part was the relationships you build for 10 years."
The only way Johnson was going to test himself as a coach was to move to MSU. He said his knowledge of Mullen's scheme and some of the people on the coaching staff have made his transition easier.
"Often times people get stuck in their rhythm of doing things and it can hinder development in our daily lives," Johnson said. "I think one of the most important things we can do in our profession is to grow and develop and not get complacent in order to search for a better way of doing things."
MSU's first spring practice will be March 18. The season will conclude April 12 with the annual spring game. Johnson's main responsibility will be to make sure Prescott is prepared to lead a team that will have at least eight returning starters on offense.
"There's a lot of external expectations, but I can tell you nobody is harder on himself than Dak when it comes to getting what he wants accomplished," Johnson said. "He already holds himself to a extremely high standard, so it's just a matter of him going out there each and every day focused on the necessary things to get better."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.