LAFAYETTE — When deciding where to play college football, Central Catholic’s Ja’len Johnson was looking for somewhere that felt like home.
He had scholarship offers from just about everywhere in the state and a few more from outside Louisiana, but it was Louisiana-Lafayette that fit just right.
Johnson became the fifth commitment for the Ragin’ Cajuns 2017 class, making the decision Wednesday — which also happened to be his 17th birthday.
“I felt comfortable over there,” Johnson said. “That’s basically what I want, to go to a college where I felt comfortable, and that’s where I was most comfortable.”
Though Johnson plays both ways for Central Catholic, the Cajuns, like most other teams recruiting the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Johnson, envision him as a hybrid between a safety and a linebacker.
“I’m expecting to play free safety, strong safety or even outside linebacker,” Johnson said. “They said they could move me around. I like the sound of that.”
Johnson said his greatest attribute as a player is his versatility, whether it’s lowering his shoulder to deliver a big hit or dropping back in coverage.
That versatility was on display last year, when Johnson tallied 68 tackles, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and 11 passes broken up.
“When you look at the film on him, you can see we use him in man coverage, we use him in the box as a linebacker,” Central Catholic coach Tommy Minton said. “He’s a good football player.”
New Cajuns receivers coach Mike Desormeaux took the lead in recruiting Johnson. Shortly after Desormeaux was hired this spring, he reached out to Minton to let him know he was interested in Johnson.
Minton and Desormeaux have a long relationship dating to when Minton was coaching at Patterson and Desormeaux was terrifying defenses as Catholic New-Iberia’s quarterback.
Desormeaux also coached against Johnson last season, when he was the head coach of Johnson’s District 7-1A rival Ascension Episcopal.
“He’s followed Ja’len,” Minton said. “As soon as he got this recruiting area he called me, and (Johnson) was one of the kids he wanted to jump on.
“He said the whole defensive staff over there really liked him and saw a lot of upside in him, made him a priority on the defensive side of the ball for them.”
Johnson has a long list of scholarship offers that includes Tulane, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe, Texas-San Antonio and Minnesota.
Minton said one of Johnson’s main draws is his youth and his potential to develop his already impressive physique.
“Most of the teams that have offered him and were recruiting him were super impressed with his length and his ability to get bigger,” Minton said. “He’s so young. He just turned 17 (Wednesday), so he’s going to graduate high school at 17, and he’s a full-fledged 6-3 and 195 pounds.”